One of my favourite parts of Winter is quiet morning coffees as the sun rises on snow covered branches, woodland backyards full of busy little birds as the world wakes. This is most definitely where you’ll find me most mornings for the rest of Winter, perched at my kitchen table, coffee in one hand and my camera in the other.
Bird watching has quickly become one of my greatest Winter hobbies, especially now that I am home each morning with not much more to do than watch the world come alive with the sunrise. I’d like to consider myself an amateur Birder here on the farm. I could sit for hours watching the comings and goings of all the busy birds. Thanks to my husbands collection of encyclopedias and nature books from his childhood I am learning so much about each and every species I spot.
Each Winter we make up batches of our own suet cakes to feed the birds. Placing them around the backyard trees and hanging them by our kitchen windows for the best views. It was the best decision ever when we started this little seasonal tradition and it’s one we’ll continue for some time. Not only do I get to be up close and personal to these flighty little creatures, they get free food out of the deal all Winter long, despite the cold harsh weather we sometimes see here on the farm.
Wanting to make your own suet cakes? It’s super easy and you only need a few items to put them together!
What You Need:
Rendered fat. Personally we use pig fat that we keep each year after butchering our hogs. We melt it down outside in the garage using an old turkey deep fryer because this Momma cannot stand that smell in her house at the moment. You could use any kind of fat from a local butcher shop or the drippings you save from bacon or hamburger as well.
Containers. We used old solo cups we had from the greenhouse for seed starting. Placing a wire in each making sure to get right to the bottom of the cup to hold it together at the birds eat it down. We also used old pie plates and drilled holes in them to hang them up. Lastly I had silicone trays for soap making that we used and then cut into squares for the feeders we had hanging in the trees left from the previous owners of the property.
Now to put it all together…
Melt down the fat you are using. I suggest doing this outside of the house if you are using fat from a butcher as it will take some time and the smell isn’t the most pleasant.
Stir in peanut butter. I don’t measure, just wing it. Sometimes we use a whole jar depending on how much fat we’ve got.
Stir in your bird seed. You’ll want enough seed to make the mixture into cakes in your containers without overpowering the fat mixture which will harden and act as the glue to hold it all together.
Let your containers harden overnight. This is best done in a cool spot for best results.
Hang and use right away, or freeze for later. We use baler twine because we have a lot of that kicking around the farm, but any string or wire will work.
Now grab your favourite mug and a hot coffee, and be prepared to twiddle away the morning hours watching your own backyard birds.
Here on the farm our most common visitors include :
Grey Jays ( Canadian Jay or Whiskey jack)
Woodpeckers (Downy and Hairy)
Chickadees(Black Capped and Boreal)
My dream would be to catch a Pileated Woodpecker at one of the feeders. They are the largest of the woodpecker family native to our area here in Alberta and are absolutely gorgeous. I think if we keep up our Winter feeding my patience will be rewarded!
One day, not so far away now, I cannot wait to share in all the splendors of Nature right here on our very own piece of land with our children. To sit and peruse through nature books and scientific encyclopedias, learning and teaching them about the land we are blessed to call home. Because in the end, that’s really why we are here doing all of this in the first place, to one day have something amazing and beautiful to leave behind us for our children.
I’d love to see your suet cake creations or bird photos, so please tag or mention us on Instagram or Facebook with your pictures!
One of the biggest goals here on the farm is to live a fully sustainable life. It’s a slow process, cutting out what we can over time here and there, and making the most of what’s available to us right off the farm. Making laundry soap seemed like a good place to start when trying to get rid of some of the more conventional household items we used.
Today, I’m sharing the recipe I use for making my own homemade laundry soap. It has been over three years since I’ve bought commercial laundry detergents from the store, including fabric softener. This soap leaves all of our clothes, bedding and towels soft and smelling wonderful, and all that you need is one tablespoon in your washing machine! The best part for us coming up, it is totally safe to use for all of our baby items we are getting ready for our little babes arrival this month.
Without further ado, here’s the recipe!
Homestead Laundry Detergent
2 bars of Fels Naptha soap (I was told you could only get this item out of the US, but for my Canadians, no need to fret, I bought a box of 24 bars offline from Amazon that shipped right to the farm!)
2 cups Borax
2 cups Washing soda (I use Arm&Hammer)
1 dishpan (I found a CLEAN kitty litter box from the dollar store worked perfect)
40 cups boiling water
Essential oils (If you’d like to add a scent to your soap, but it smells wonderful all on it’s own too)
Jars (You’ll need lots, depending on what sizes you are using too)
Step 1. Coarsely grate your 2 bars of Fels Naptha soap into dishpan. Add 16 cups of boiling water and stir until all the soap is dissolved.
Step 2. Add 20 cups of boiling water to dishpan. Stir in 2 cups Borax, stirring to dissolve. Add 2 cups washing soda, stir to dissolve. If using essential oils add at this time.
Step 3. Once everything has dissolved, add more hot water until about an inch from the top of your dishpan. Stir.
Step 4. Ladle the soap mixture into jars working quickly, as the liquid will start to gel as it cools.
There you have it, you’ve jarred your very own batch of laundry soap! To use add 1 tablespoon directly into washing machine with clothes. This soap can be used with both regular machines and HE machines. And don’t be afraid to skip out on the fabric softener, you’re not going to need it!
Another item we added just this Winter to our laundry regime was dryer balls. I had been wanting to try them out forever, but was stubborn and didn’t want to purchase them. I had my own plan set in motion. The fibre we had saved from our first alpaca gentlemen (Calvin and Hobbes) had been taken to a mill. It was not the right quality of fibre for making into wool, so it was mixed with merino wool and turned into roving. When I got the roving back , I knew what I was going to do with it.
The dryer balls were relatively easy to make, using a stockinette (or pantyhose leg) and running them through the wash cycle a couple of times to felt them together. The roving was wound into tight softball size balls, stuffed into the stockinette and tied individually and then sent through a wash cycle on the hottest setting possible. We ended up doing a total of three cycles before removing the balls to dry. After drying for an evening, we cut the balls out of the pantyhose and, voila, dryer balls!
I like to use mine with a couple drops of my favourite oils to add a little extra fresh to the dryer. Simply toss the ball into the dryer with your load of clothes or bedding and dry as normal. No static. Softness. Fresh scent. I am sold on alpaca dryer balls. I can’t wait to save more fibre this spring just for Dryer Balls to share!
Wondering what some of the best essential oils are for laundry?
Lavender – My go to for adding in with bedding, this oil is a relaxing and calming floral smell.
Wild Orange – A fresh scent, this oil is uplifting and invigorating and makes for the perfect addition for clothing.
Melaleuca (Tea Tree) – This cleansing oil is a great addition for those who may be like me, and sometimes forget a load in the washer now and then. Add this purifying oil to your dryer ball and pop in with wet clothes to dryer.
Eucalyptus – Great for freshening and killing germs, this oil is a must when purging after a sickness.
Lemongrass – A citrus oil, with a side of earthy smell, this makes for a great scent for that man in your life’s dirty socks or work clothes.
Cedarwood – A favourite of mine, this earthy smell is grounding with cleansing properties. Another great one for the man in your life, or a great addition for a good nights sleep with lavender.
I hope that you’ll love this recipe as much as I do and found this post helpful. I would love to see your laundry creations, so please, tag us or mention us on Instagram to share your laundry hacks!
I’m not sure how, but today is the first day of December already, which means November has passed us by and before you know it, the hustle and bustle of the holidays will be here and gone.
Ummm….could we go ahead and just slow time on down!
The passing of November took with it another Open Season for hunting, and this year definitely looked a little different for me. My overalls wouldn’t do up anymore with this belly (thank goodness for coat extenders). I most certainly couldn’t climb into my tree stand, and I just made it up into my little blind. But for me, it wasn’t about shooting a big buck for the wall and this year we really do have lots of meat in the freezer already. This year, I was OK with not even having to fire my rifle. What I refused to miss out on is the beauty of the changing seasons, on the quiet wonders of nature. I didn’t want to miss out on at least a couple afternoon sits, quiet and calm, surrounded by field and forest. When our resident Momma doe and her twin fawns come walking out of the tree line and stop right in front of where I sit hiding. This is what the season really means to me. So there was no buck down this year, but I am blessed with a full freezer of farm raised meat and for being allowed these little views into the calmness of Mother Nature’s miracles.
Here on the farm we are ready to welcome this season of cozy weekends, of cold snowy days, of white Winter wonderlands and holiday spirit. We are ready for a season of slowing down, of living in the moment, of enjoying each others company and appreciating what life has given us and where it has brought us this past year. There is so much to be thankful for this season.
Chores continue on the farm, despite the falling snow and dropping temperatures. Winter brings forth the task of keeping waterers thawed, fresh water topped up, clean and dry bedding in place and hay available for munching at all times. As always, we are so grateful for the LOOP program we are able to be a part of and the fact that throughout the Winter months our animals will still have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, bakery items, eggs, dairy and the odd treat (yes this includes chocolate cake). Some days I feel like our animals are eating better than I do!
You will not see much of the three little pigs through the cold Winter days, as they hibernate away in their pig haus. Snuggled together in layers of straw, snouts peeking out to determine when it’s dinner time and safe to leave the comfort and warmth of bed. The pigs do grow a longer hair coat during the colder season, but it is still not enough to protect them against our harsh Alberta Winter elements. An insulated house with warm bedding is a must for the pigs when it gets cold out.
In the coop, some of the hens refuse to leave the shelter of their house as well, drawn out only by the tempts of treats. Our chickens have access to a covered run in the Winter, which we block of with plastic sheeting to protect against the wind and snow. With the help of the suns warmth, it makes for a tolerable environment outside of the coop. This is where there food and water is kept during the colder months as well, to help with any kind of humidity problem we try to avoid inside the coop. Humidity is a huge Winter killer and can do a number with frostbite incidents. Free access to fresh water and grain keeps the ladies going, even if they aren’t laying me any eggs in protest. Sorry girls, we are just getting started with this weather forecast!
The goats also tend to hide out more inside of their shelter on the colder days. It is a large enough building that it houses a shelter within a shelter, which is stock piled with dry straw for bedding down in. All four goats can fit comfortably inside for cuddling, while having access to their hay feeder in the other half of the shelter confines. The only reason they have to leave is for fresh water only a few steps away. You are sure to still hear their bleats when walking the yard for chores, and curious little heads poke through the doorway looking for treats.
Out in the back field the donkeys and alpacas are also adjusting to the Winter weather. They have a large shelter which fits all four comfortably with minimal squabbling. Topped up with dry straw for bedding and facing into the sunshine, it works for taking away the Winter chills. We keep two bale feeders topped up with hay and a heated bucket allows for access to fresh water. Everyone out back has grown in their Winter coats, with the donkeys looking like their shaggy selves and the alpacas gaining back their fluff.
Deuce’s face has also healed up very nicely from his minor surgery in October. While it took some work, I couldn’t be more happy with how he looks. From bandages, to grazing muzzles and all the sprays and creams in between, I think we won the itchy scratchy pull your stitches out battle in the end!
And then there is my big Winter bear dog. Hank seems unphased by the weather change, which is no surprise seeing how fluffy he got with the change in temperatures. Always on guard, racing out back at the slightest commotion to the back field with the girls, chasing squirrels throughout the trees and sleeping outside our bedroom window. He is my morning greeter, always waking to come for a cuddle and hug before I leave for work (OK and maybe the last bite of whatever I had for breakfast that morning and saved him). He towers over both of the ladies now, but loves their company, driving them both crazy I am sure. He is such a lovable big guy, but don’t be fooled, you don’t want to meet him in the dark of the night in our yard!
Another Winter-To-Do which we started last year, is making our own homemade suet cakes for the birds. Using the pork fat saved from butchering our Summer hogs, we melt it down to liquid form, mix in peanut butter and bird seed, let it set, and VOILA! Winter bird feed! The cakes and pucks are hung up around the tree branches at the back of the house and bring in all kinds of visitors. Little chickadees, blue jays, Whiskey Jacks and my favourite, little red headed woodpeckers. So, on Winter weekend mornings you can find me in the quiet hours as the sun rises, coffee in one hand, camera in the other, watching all the little winter birds busy in the backyard.
Before life gets busy on us again during the holidays, Dan and I took advantage of a day off together and took off on a mountain adventure, perhaps you could call it our little “babymoon”. The mountains are always my must go destination when we are able to get the time away from the farm. There is just something about that fresh air and closeness to nature that soothes a tired soul. So, we found a Christmas songs channel on the radio, bundled up and spent the day chasing snow clouds through the Rocky Mountains!
Perhaps my favourite stop this trip was Pyramid Lake, a new destination for both Dan and I. I had to take advantage of the beautiful backdrop to capture a great bump shot. The best part, a little side story behind it. The first time my parents visited the West, they ventured to Jasper National Park. At the time, I was a cute little bump in my Mom’s belly. I think that must be where my love of the mountains bloomed. It seemed only fitting that we should take our little Burch bump to the mountains to share the love. So, here’s 30 weeks. In the middle of Jasper National Park. Surrounded by the wild I love. With this little wee family we are growing.
We took advantage of a nicer week of weather to embrace the holidays here on the farm, hanging the Christmas lights on the house, putting out our wreaths around the farm yard and even getting out the decorations in the house. Dan is a trooper, and each year takes to the rooftop to perfectly hang our strands of lights on the house top. I love the way our house looks when we arrive home in the darkness to it lit up.
The owners before us also left a whole bunch of Christmas wreaths out in the shed, so each year we use them to decorate around the yard. From the old garden gate (soon to be expanded chicken run) to the gate at the end of the drive, we miss no opportunity to be festive!
Inside the house, the aromas of scented salt dough ornaments and drying citrus fruit made the holidays come alive. This year I dried out oranges, grapefruit and lemons from where else, but of course our LOOP pickup, to use for garlands and hanging on the branches of our Christmas tree. Resorting to Pinterest, I found a recipe for salt dough, and created little ornaments to hang on the garland and also in the tree this year. A couple special ones were even saved to be used as gift tags this season.
Keeping with tradition, we set out to the woods out back with our trusted farm truck to look for this years perfect tree. Of course with this being Hank’s first Christmas here with us on the farm , we had to bring him along for the adventure. We weren’t long, armed with hot chocolate, Christmas songs and the chainsaw, finding and falling our perfect Christmas tree. This year was a little different, as it will be Dan and I’s last Christmas as a married couple. Next year, I so look forward to starting this tradition with our wee family and our little Winter babe.
With John Denver Christmas songs blaring over vinyl records, we stood our tree in the house and hung the decorations. I may be a little biased, but this might just be one of my favourite trees yet!
With the countdown to our little Winter babe’s arrival dwindling, the slow down in pace on the farm is much accepted. Time to prepare and prep. We have been working on filling our freezer with as many leftover freezer meals as possible. I think we’ve finally got all the basics ready to go in the nursery, although I am sure we will find out what we missed as life happens. Next thing you know, we’ll be packing and having our hospital bag at the ready!
I’ve taken on all the projects for this little one, from knitting to sewing and crafting. I knit my first ever sweater (baby sized of course)! I am part way through a knit stroller blanket. I’ve made several little pairs of pants and matching hats on the sewing machine. I even made several of my own swaddle blankets and burp pads. There is a quilt in pieces on the spare bed waiting to be sewn together. I can’t wait for this little babe to enjoy all these handmade items from Mom.
I had my Mom mail me some baby pictures and we pilfered through some of Dan’s dad’s albums at the farm to start a little collection of photos for our babe. Now, to find a little photo album to put them in! I think judging by these photos, we are in for one cute little Burch Baby!
We met the frost in the forest, in the small hours of the morning when the sunlight is just starting to grow to bright enough to penetrate between the branches and dead leaves. Our boots crunched across the leaf littered ground, breaking through the ice that had formed over the puddles in the middle of the mud road. The engine of the old farm truck rumbled and the steam from the exhaust crept out from behind us. Today was a day for lumberjacks, and that’s just what we were that morning bundled in our plaid coats, mittens and toques.
There is something so peaceful about spending a day in the woods; cutting splitting and stacking. I think, perhaps, it’s one of the best ways to cleanse the soul. Dan handles the saw work, using his chainsaw like a painter would a brush, slicing and cutting through the timber in swift, equal movements. I follow behind, gathering the smaller of the pieces into the back of the truck, and using the wood splitter to break down anything that wouldn’t quite fit into the woodstove. Bending over to gather is getting to be a bit of a chore, working around this growing belly, but I can run that splitter like no one’s business! In one tank of gas on the chainsaw, we have it down to a science to fill exactly one full load in the truck. Four years of cutting wood together got us here. The greatest reward, our home stays warm and cozy all Winter long off of our hard work, and you just really can’t beat the smell of that wood stove.
Early September found us out with the bees, removing the honey supers from our two established hives and replacing them with boxes that held the feeder pails. The feeder pails remained for all three of the hives until the freezing temperatures started at night, and got us about three whole buckets of sugar water fed to each of the hives. A quick check and we were happy to see everyone was in a good place for the change of seasons, even our split hive was establishing themselves well. We completed our final treatment of the season, this one for varoa mites, using oxacylic acid (derived from rhubarb leaves) and a fogger inside of the hive. After a couple days of rest after the treatment was completed, the feeder boxes were removed, the top boards of the hives were closed and each hive was individually wrapped in their own insulation cozy. We slid each hive closer together, with our weakest of the three our split hive snuggled in the middle of the two, then they were ratchet strapped to the bench so they couldn’t be bothered from wind or snow accumulation. Now, they will sit there for the Winter months, as the bees cozy down and work hard to stay warm and fed for the season. All we can do now is keep our fingers crossed and hope we see them all again in the Spring!
The FlowHive supers were brought into the house to warm before extracting honey. The technology behind the frames is that you are disturbing less of the comb structure and saving the wax for the bees to re-use. Essentially, a tool is inserted into the top of each frame, which cracks the comb and then splits the cells, allowing the built up honey to flow out of the frame while leaving the comb structure and wax intact. The bees had a late start into the supers this year, due to weather and conditions, so only one of the super boxes was partially framed in with honey. But this was the first year any of the bees had ventured into this part of the hive and we are beyond excited. A total of 14 lbs of late summer honey was collected and jarred. Thank you bees!
We also finished up our first garden season in the new plot this September. Summer might not have exactly cooperated with us this year, but the little harvests we had to show throughout gave us hope for the years to come, as we continue to break the ground and add what is needed to the soil to make it work. If there was one thing we did grow this year, it would be peas. We had peas for days! They still were still blooming and going strong in September, which goes to show what an odd growing season we had this year. With all the rain, creating mud, weeding became almost impossible and the garden was soon enough a jungle. There were times I contemplated getting serious about the weeds, until I noticed our honey bees and bumble bees busy in the flowers of the thistles and dandelions that had taken over. I left everything as is, and decided this year letting the bees collect pollen and nectar from the weeds for winter made more sense to me than clean,tidy rows at that point. I’m hoping they pay me back next year in honey!
I had some of the best help for garden clean up this Fall, as my Mom and Dad were out visiting. I took full advantage and we spent a whole afternoon in the vegetable garden getting things wound down for the season. Pulling out pea trellis and beans, digging up potatoes, picking little pumpkins to ripen, and even managing to fill a couple buckets of corn cobs. Dad even took on the task of removing Dan’s soaker hose system which had become entwined and overgrown in the rows of weeds. It was a successful cleanup, and the next day Dan and Dad built a little alleyway to accommodate the travel of our clean up crew, the three little pigs! They were some happy pigs each morning when the gate was opened and they followed me across the yard to the garden. They spent days in there rooting around in the carrot clean ups, taking down the corn stalks and basking in all the yummy goodness.
A change in temperatures and a decrease in daylight has begun to take it’s toll as the change in season becomes apparent in the chicken coop. We made it through the moulting season, and have moved on to the ” I don’t think I’ll lay eggs” season. Which is ok with us, as the ladies provided a surplus of eggs to us this Summer and deserve the break they get in laying over the Winter months. The coop is ready for the cold, wrapped in it’s usual plastic wind break around the run and the nesting boxes snuggled in their insulation wraps. A last big clean was done, walls washed down, new bedding added, poop hammock emptied and we are ready for what this next season brings us.
We had a sad start to October on the farm, as we had to say goodbye to Little Black Hen unexpectedly. I never knew how much room one little chicken could take up in your heart, but I’ll tell you, it’s a lot. She was such a special little chicken, always greeting me at the gate of the coop, always checking out the dogs along the fence, taking treats from my hands, tolerating me holding her for all of the pictures. She even spent an afternoon as a house chicken, which I may add she was not a fan of but made me very happy. She spent four amazing years with us here on the farm and is already greatly missed in the coop. My little greeting crew is gone and with it a piece of my heart. Sometimes, farm life is just plain hard.
Everyone out in the back field is doing well and enjoying these last few bits of autumn we are offered. The donkeys and alpacas spend much more of their time away from the old hog pen and closer to the bush line. We’ve even seen them a couple times on forest adventures, the donkeys leading and alpacas in tow. Soon enough we’ll be using up all that hay we stored in the shed, but for not there is lots for the eating still out back.
Deuce over the summer has developed a lump on the left side of his face just above his lip. We had coordinated a vet visit for him, but after struggling to get him on the trailer for a couple of hours, we were fortunate enough to have the vet come out to us to take a look. It turned out to be what he called a sarcoid, which is a benign tumour like growth that can be quite common in donkeys and horses. He was able to remove the lump and stitch him back up, all the while Deucey was the best little donkey patient. I knew I loved these donkey boys, but watching him get his sedative and start wobbling, leaning up against Dan while the vet worked on him, made my heart hurt. Setting a hand on his rump for reassurance while he teetered and stood like a champ. This was very minor surgery, I can’t even begin to fathom otherwise. I think it’s safe to say these two are far from just farm animals. They are loved and cherished, they are large pets and I’d sure be lost without them. Big hugs from Dan afterwards made everything ok!
A few weeks ago I arrived home to see that we had acquired yard goats throughout the day. Thank goodness they are very cooperative goats and accompanied with a small bucket of grain, everyone followed me back to the pen and through the gate. This continued for three days as we were completely stumped as to how they kept managing to escape the pen they had been in for a year with no problems. Turns out, all the moisture and puddles we had laying in the front yard that adjoins the goat pen, had started to dry up and disappear with the weather cooling and the sometimes freezing temperatures. There was a nice little goat sized space where they had been crawling under the fence where the fence post had heaved out the freezing ground. Dan was quick to pound it back into place and there have been no escapees since, although they will yell across the yard to tell you how mad they are about this daily!
Thanks to the LOOP program, everyone on the farm has even already been able to start enjoying pumpkin treats. Pumpkin is so good for the animals here on the farm, as a high source of fibre and a source of protein. It also helps to act as a natural deterrent for worms. I am sure as Halloween draws near we will be up to our ears in pumpkins, but nobody here minds!
Hank continues to grow like a weed, standing well above both of his sisters now. For such a big dog, he has the sweetest of personalities and continues to fit more and more in on the farm. There are some days I am not sure whether or not he knows he’t not a donkey, and I don’t want to be the one to crush his hopes. I think they’ve accepted him as one of their own anyways. He’s always close by when its time for feedings and is the best chore dog there ever was. I think it would be safe to say he is a Momma’s boy, and that makes my heart happy.
The best part of the Fall by far, was getting to have my Mom and Dad visit for a week at the end of September. I think Mom showed up with a whole carry on suitcase full of baby items, ready to take on the Grandma role. We spent the week at work here, turning our old spare bedroom into the nursery of my dreams. How special it will be to tell this child how much love and hard work Grandma and Grandpa put into this room, just for them. With Dad’s help on construction, Mom busy painting, we redid the entire room right down to the trim and added in a shiplap wall. We built the crib, put up and filled bookshelves and really made the space come to life. Refurnished antique pieces from Dan’s dad are found in the nursery, along with my antique set of Wade figurines I collected as a little girl. A special book from my brother sits front and center on the bookshelf and the beautiful handmade blanket from my Mom hangs on the side of the crib. Not to forget are the many hand me down’s from friends and a couple special little gifts from an old friend who refers to me as “the daughter he never had”. We are beyond thankful and feeling so blessed. Little one, you have a village waiting for you, who already love and adore you.
All work and no play wouldn’t make for much of a holiday, so we made sure to have a day of fun away from the house. Dan took my Dad with him to work for the day, showing him the ropes of the oilpatch. Mom and I took a day trip to my favourite local flower farm, where we hand picked and arranged our own bouquets in the most quaint greenhouse you ever did see.
The time always flies by when Mom and Dad come to the farm, but I am always so grateful for their company, help and never ending support. We’ll be seeing them again soon, as the count down to our little Winter babes arrival starts to dwindle. It is hard to imagine that in just three months, Dan and I will be first time parents. Oh, what a wonderful though that is!
In the mean time, here’s our BUMPDATE photos, since we’ve been slacking on the blog here in the last month.
The seasons are shifting here on the farm. The days are getting shorter and the mornings a little darker; the air is cooler in these moments of change. The yards and fields are filled with the sound of busy insects, preparing for the next season. The clicking of grasshoppers, taking off from underfoot through the grass, the buzzing of busy bumbles and honey bees as they forage and frenzy on wildflower pollen. The hogs have been shipped off of the farm for yet another year. The corn in the garden is tassling out in cobs, popping here and there between rows. And perhaps best of all, the sunflowers are arriving in all their glory around the beehives. Fall is definitely in the air already!
Perhaps I feel the change most on our walks we’ve taken up during weeknights through the woods out back. The colours are changing, ever so slightly, in the leaves on the birch trees looking over us. Some leaves are already scattered across the trails, starting their mosaic of colour that will blanket the forest floor. I’d like to blame it all on the rainy season of Summer we had but deep down I know this isn’t the only action of Mother Nature causing change. There’s a smell in the woods, left over from rains and damp, where the mushrooms are growing in abundance, that tickles my senses. The slight chill in the shaded overgrowth of trees sends a little shiver down the spine. Soon, it will be time to replace my open toed sandals for moccasins, my t-shirts for flannel and sundresses for jeans. But I’m not letting go quite yet!
The ladies, Hank and I have thoroughly been enjoying our evening jaunts. It’s doing us all some good and it’s good for the soul too. Some nights we criss-cross through the donkey field trails, wandering to the wooded back, zigzagging through the trails my husband has so lovingly cut for us. Some nights take us to the goat pen, following the little cut paths through the underbrush, over the bridge and across the streams still running this time of year. It’s not long before we’re spotted, and the bleats of curious goaters follow us through the foliage. These are some of my favourite walks with all the creatures in-tow. We’ve even been brave enough to venture out of the fenceline on occasion, slipping out the gate in the back pasture and following the lease road south. We were a little late in the season this year, and I don’t think the rains helped our cause, but we managed to forage on the patches of wild raspberries on our very back cutline on the property. There wasn’t enough this year for our usual batch of wine, but they did make for a yummy raspberry mint limeade when we got home!
Life felt so busy all Summer here on the farm, and I’m welcoming this slow down with open arms. First, the kettle is put on the stove to boil, as I fetch my french press from the cupboard and my coffee grounds out of the pantry. I allow myself one cup on the weekends, because what would a Saturday or Sunday morning be without a hot coffee?! Mug in hand, it’s outside to the greet the day.
My first stop is usually at the beehives. There is something about watching the hives come to life in the mornings, as the sun touches the hive entrances and warms the bees awake. Slowly, one by one, the first bees lazily fly from the hives to start their day of forage. Come mid-day the hives are bustling with bees coming and going, it is such a sight to see, and can be heard far from the hives on a hot day. It’s been another Summer of learning for us with our bees, as we completed our first ever hive split, had to re-queen not only our split but one of our established hives as well and learned that not only did the rain effect us, but had a large part to play in the bees lives this season too. Having done the split, and robbing frames from our established hives, this won’t be the year yet for us for honey harvest. But we are excited that the yellow hive has decided to start using the flow frames in their honey super. Whatever they have stored up their will be the only honey we take this year for ourselves, as we hope to help out our split hive for the Winter to come. In the next week here, we will remove the honey supers and set up in their place our fall feeders, as well as completing our fall treatments for mites. I never thought I would ever call myself a beekeeper, but I think this Summer we have definitely earned the title.
Next, you’ll find me in the garden. It has easily become one of my favourite places to pass away the time this Summer. And if I may, just toot my own horn a little here, I am absolutely in LOVE with the fence Dan and I built this Spring. I often feel like I’m in the English countryside, surrounded by my waddle fence we built by hand. Even though the garden has gotten a little out of control this year, it was our first year in the new location and these things take time to establish. Just the other morning while out picking peas and beans I thought about attempting some more weeding, that is until I noticed how many of our honeybees and bumblebees were busy in the flowers of the thistles and dandelions that have taken over. I left everything as is. Because letting our bees collect pollen and nectar from the weeds for their Winter storage makes more sense to me than having clean, tidy rows at this point in the season. Here’s hoping they’ll pay me back next season in honey!
While it may not have been the best year in the garden, there are still vegetables in there persevering despite the weeds. We’ve had lots of salads with dinner with lettuce from the garden. We had the best pea harvest I’ve seen since moving to the farm. The beans are just getting started, but so far are looking good and have made appearances on our dinner plates. I have one little squash, a couple little bitty pumpkins, my first ever kholrabi and some hopeful cabbages. There’s even some tomatoes holding onto hope in there too. It wasn’t the best season for strawberries, but the ones we did get to pick were big and juicy. While there won’t be much for canning this season, we’ve been enjoying some little harvests and that makes me happy, and the work worth it.
If you look close enough from the garden, often you can see at least one of the three little pigs suntanning in the far corner of their pen. Soft little snorts of content float through the air, as they root and explore in the long grass beside their own little personal stream. If you call out, Tui stops short in his tracks, head up and ears alert, before bee-lining it for the gate. Good morning greetings mean breakfast, obviously. You can tell these little pigs are starting to trust us and feeling at home. Tui especially. The other morning a quick snout scratch turned into Tui laying down and rolling onto his side for belly rubs. Oh my heart exploded. This little grumpy gus wanted my attention!
They may be the smallest animals on the farm, but most mornings the chickens are by far the loudest. Our little flock is one of the first on the farm to wake up, with rooster calls and clucking heard across the yard. I love how everyone comes running when they spot you coming towards the run, hopeful for treats and goodies. You can tell the seasons are shifting in the coop, as feathers start floating around everywhere. Molting season is upon us! Along with molting, comes a slight drop in egg production. We start supplementing in the Fall with black oil sunflower seeds for the chickens. The increase in proteins and vitamins helps them to grow those feathers back and give them a head start as they head into the Winter months.
The next pen in line would be the goats on our morning farm tours. Depending on what time you’ve drug your butt out of bed and got your coffee, the goats may or may not be waiting with morning greetings. If you’re behind schedule, they’ll be long gone to the woods exploring. Doc is especially curious about morning coffees. These four sure are entertaining, and once you’ve been spotted in the yard, there is no end to the bleating and calls from the goat pen.
Of course it wouldn’t be morning rounds without a visit out to the donkeys and alpacas. The boys still spend most of their days over by the hog pen, even though the pigs are now gone for the year. They also have a habit of following along the chicken tractor when it is moved each day. They’ve become the clean up crew along with the dogs. I love looking out the kitchen window and seeing everyone in the back field.
Of course Hank is always with me for our morning checks, he has turned into the best not so little chore dog there ever was. He is the best big little farm dog, and we are so lucky to have welcomed him to the farm. He is going to be a big boy, but he has the right personality for it, and is just the sweetest boy. He’s even grown on the girls. The three of them had a spa day the otherweek, and Hank was a rockstar for his first bath. Also, have I mentioned that Hank loves peas? He also loves pieces of apples and blueberries, but only one at a time. He is one healthy pup!
The last stop before we head back to the house in the morning, is always at the wildflower gardens to watch the bees. Hank loves to stop and smell (or eat) the flowers and I like to see him watching the bees buzz around with curiosity. A little late to bloom this year, the wildflowers are taking off now. Poppies have come and gone, cosmos are starting to bloom and there is lots of borage for the bees to feed on. My gladiolas are in full bloom right now, to mine and the bumblebees delight. It’s a magical little space.
Outside of the farm, Dan and I love to take time in the Summer to enjoy all that Nature has to offer around us. On a sunny day off, we pack up the truck and head on down to the river! Canoeing the Pembina river is one of our favourite ways to spend a Summer day. We were lucky enough to steal one day this season and head out in the canoe. Fishing, relaxing, floating and paddling the day away. Always a beautiful sight to see from the river.
OK… let’s get to the part we’ve all really been waiting for….
I know I’m one of the lucky ones, but I have felt so good so far throughout my pregnancy. Despite a little fatigue in the first trimester, a little heartburn showing up in the second, my body and I have been feeling great. I’m feeling the magic. My body is slowly starting to change, and you know what, I think every now and then I feel a little something happening in there.
I feel so blessed, for each and every moment of this pregnancy. It was a struggle, a battle, an emotional roller coaster and a lot of heartbreak getting to this point. But we made it, and we couldn’t be more thankful.
Dan has been a trooper; dealing with the crazy mood swings, the random requests for night time popcorn snacks and the middle of the night pee breaks. Also, he’s been wonderful at helping me to capture all the little moments of this journey we are on.
At this point in the Summer, we are months behind where we would be normally, if Mother Nature wasn’t deciding to flood us out. Just when the sun peeks her head from the clouds, the rain drops begin falling, big and soft, hard and fast, sheet like. You name it, we’ve had all the types of rainfall this season.
Despite the seemingly never ending Summer showers, we are still making the most out of the season while we can here on the farm. Despite her best efforts, Mother Nature has not yet been able to completely kill everything growing in the vegetable garden this year. Our colder weather crops are hanging in there, with little carrot tops peeking out of the soil, peas growing to incredible heights and little baby cauliflower poking their heads from between the foliage. With the weather it’s been hard to get out weeding in between rows, so the garden is looking a little overgrown this year. But fingers crossed we will still be seeing a harvest of most things planted. I mean, the weather has to turn around at some point, I’m thinking August must be our month!
Moving our garden this year was the best thing we could have done, as it now sits on a little slope, giving us the drainage we need during this rainy season. Meanwhile, back in the old garden, the weeds have taken over next to my little patches of wildflowers, which are struggling to bloom with a lack of sunshine. They persevere, and I am finally seeing the first little pops of colour appear.
Out back in the woods, the wildflowers are flourishing under the canopies of trees and greenery. Taking advantage of breaks in the rain, forest walks are a must for picking wild wood bouquets. I love a good ol’ adventure into the woods with our little pack, Dan usually leading, Lily and Hank off adventuring, and Sophie and I meandering along taking up the rear of the line.
The garden isn’t the only thing the cooler, wet weather has been hard on this summer, as we make sure to keep a close eye on the beehive activity. It is hard for the bees to get out foraging in the rain, but you better believe those hives are buzzing while the sun shines! Our first split from earlier in the Summer is still in the nuc box. We had been hoping the hive, along with the help of frames full of eggs and brood from our other healthy hives, would encourage the bees to requeen themselves naturally. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case yet and so we intervened. We purchased a queen bee from a local beekeeper and have inserted her into the nuc box. We will check in a week or so to make sure she has taken to the hive, and then move this new colony into a hive box so they can start preparing for their Winter season.
The rain doesn’t seem to bother any of the other animals too much here on the farm, as everyone has shelters out of the rain and warm bedding to hide out in when the weather turns. But you can find everyone out basking in the rays when the sun does show her face. The alpacas and donkeys are usually found over by the pig pen, cleaning up what little grain they can convince the pigs to spill outside the pen. The goats, having free access now to the woodland lot beside them, can be spotted time to time crossing the little creek bridge or rummaging through the undergrowth along the back fenceline. Of course the three little pigs are in pig heaven, with all this rain creating a constant little creek through their pen, with lush greens for snacking and soft spots for lounging.
If there was anybody else hoping for sun as much as me, I would think it would be our laying hens. They miss their sunshine naps in the grass. Egg production has kept up fairly well, all things considered. Maybe our LOOP pickups are keeping them satisfied enough to keep laying! We also made the decision to get rid of our big rooster, Chanticleer, and send him to freezer camp. He was starting to get a little too ambitious with some of our ladies. Since, then we have noticed an increase in eggs again. We also have a handsome new little man of the coop, Thor, our Icelandic roo. This little heritage breed is so beautiful, and while he won’t get much bigger, he has lots of personality to make up for it.
Hank continues to grow like a weed. He has now reached the same height as Sophie and Lily, and has a long ways to go yet to being full grown. He is just the sweetest little pup, and has fit so well into life on the farm here with us. I wish he’d stop growing so fast, I don’t know where my LITTLE big dog has gone!
It wouldn’t be a summer season without some home made goodies and fermenting going on on the farm either. With our rhubarb patch out of control this year, the only logical thing to do was start a big batch of rhubarb wine! We are excited to play a bit this year with the recipe and see how we can improve from last seasons batch. We also had a bumper crop of Haskap berries from our bushes this year, and while it wasn’t quite enough yet for making wine, we did get to indulge in a haskap meringue pie that was pretty delectable.
Perhaps the most exciting news to share in this blog post, which we have been waiting some time for, is to share with everyone that our little farm will be growing by one! The struggle was real for Dan and I over the last couple of years, as we battled through infertility. It was a huge test on our marriage but it also brought us so much closer as a couple. It was a battle we were fighting together, each and every step of the way. We couldn’t feel more blessed to announce that our little bundle of joy will be arriving January 2020. I am a true believer now, that good things do take time, and this little babe was totally worth the wait!
“Let’s just sit quietly and listen to the secrets the rain wants to tell us.”
-John Mark Green
It’s been raining for weeks here on the farm. The sunshine tries to make a break for it in the sky, as the clouds part and her light shines down, but only momentarily. Then the rain clouds move back in and begin their deluge again.
To say everything is wet, would be an understatement. The ground is so saturated the rain is simply pooling and puddling at this point, and there is MUD beyond all mud. We have definitely had a monsoon June kind of start to summer.
All this rain has turned the pig pen for the meat hogs into a flowing torrent of stink. The pigs do have some high ground where their shelter is to escape from the elements, but the remainder of the pen is just muck! It makes for some tricky chores, wading through the mud and fighting off hungry hogs. We are ever so thankful for our LOOP pickups, and the pigs enjoy four to five 5 gallon pails full of goodies each day.
The little broiler birds, who are definitely not so little anymore, have made the big move out to the back field. They now share the grassy area with the donkeys and alpacas. Each day they get moved one coops length onto new grass, so they are free to range, while still having free access to grain and fresh water. So far so good out back for the birds! The donkeys are sure to follow along after a coop move, cleaning up any spilled grain!
I think the boys out back are getting just as sick of this rain as we are. The donkeys usually take to the bush for cover from the weather. But the alpacas have quite taken to the pigs, and hardly leave the side of their pen. We think this is because of their herd nature and protective instincts that they like to stay close to the group of hogs out back.
Dan used to tease me that we weren’t building an ark and we didn’t need to collect all of the animals. I think he may be taking back those words as the rain continues to fall today.
Along with everyone out back, the three little pigs, goats and laying hens have all been enjoying their LOOP foods as well. The little chickens from the Pickup Palace coop have been integrated into our flock, and they spend their days out with the older girls exploring and checking out their new surroundings. I think they are going to fit in well! The three little pigs do not venture too far from the pig haus in the rain, but on the occasion the sun does shines, they can be found out back of their pen taking in the rays. The goat pen has also become a lush oasis, with the creek flowing heavy and little pockets of water forming mini ponds in the bush.
Despite all the rain, our garden seems to be surviving. It was such a good decision this year to move the garden, allowing us a sloped pitch for drainage. All this rain seems to be running right out, and there has thankfully been no flooding. While we need the heat and some sunshine to help everything out, there is flowers on the tomatoes and pumpkins, we are actually growing peas this year that are thriving and our potatoes definitely look good, but need a hilling. One of these days I’ll be able to get in there and get my weeding done!
My flower beds are also blooming in spite of the weather, spreading joy with colour. They are also in a desperate need of weeding, which won’t be happening anytime soon. My lupines have taken off this year and I am so excited. I started them from seed two years ago and placed them through out the beds at the front of the house. My side garden of hollyhocks is suffering a little this year, but with time, it will be full and beautiful.
Our fruit trees suffered this year from the weeks we had of below minus forty cold in the winter. The tops of the trees all died, leaving only some new growth sprouting from the bottoms. It was a hard blow for us, as some of our trees had been here for four years. So far, it would appear that the berry bushes have all survived. We had our first harvest of haskap berries. These arctic berries as they are sometimes called, are almost a mix of a saskatoon and a blueberry. I look forward to having enough one day for mead or wine! My raspberries all look at though they will be back in full bloom this year and we look forward to that season as well.
I made sure to take advantage of a break in the rain to collect wild rose petals again this year. They flourish all over our property here and have so many benefits when made into rose water. Wondering how to make your own?
Collect fresh petals. I like to leave one petal on the bud so that the roses will still turn into rosehips later in the season.
Rinse with cold water to wash away any bugs or pests.
Put the petals into a small pot, adding water to just cover the petals.
Heat over a low heat, making sure to not let the water come to a boil. A boil will cause the properties of the petals to be destroyed, and will alter the colour of your water.
Heat for 20 minutes, or until the colour has left the petals.
Strain off and store in a jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.
The rainy days have also made it a little harder for hive inspections, but we make sure to take advantage of any breaks in the rain to check on our busy little friends. A couple weeks ago we did out first split on one of our hives. We didn’t want the bees to swarm and leave, so we took several frames of eggs and brood, along with some bees, and put them into a smaller box called a nuc. They will stay in the nuc until they are able to create queen for themselves, or we intervene and add in a queen bee. At that time, they will be moved into their own hive box to start saving up supplies for the Winter. Both of our other hives now have the honey supers on top, and we are keeping our fingers crossed the rain won’t hold them back too much for honey production this year.
The rain may be here to stay for a little while yet, so we are not letting it get our spirits down. We take full advantage of the sunny days we get, and on rainy days, we take some well deserved down time. I’m keeping up with all my summer reading, am excited to be starting a new book club with a good friend and as always, take advantage of the time indoors to knit. We’ll wait out the rain knowing the sun has to be coming back out soon!