Watching the radar

Things are still looking pretty good out there, though the daytime temperatures are definitely on the colder side. The storm alerts remain, with snow predicted to start in the wee hours, tonight. The local “looking ahead” notification on my phone’s app now reads, “A snowstorm from late tonight into Friday afternoon with blizzard conditions tomorrow and accumulations of 40-60 cm.”

That’s 16-24 inches. Yesterday, the high end of the local prediction was up to 45cm/18in.

The main alert has changed a bit. I no longer see the warning for up to 80cm/31in in some areas.


Winter Storm Warning

Issued at 04:27 Tuesday 12 April 2022

Hazardous winter conditions are expected.

Major spring storm poised to wallop southern Manitoba beginning overnight Tuesday into Wednesday morning and lasting until Friday morning. Widespread snowfall accumulations of 30-50 cm accompanied by northerly winds gusting 60-70 km/h giving zero visibility at times in snow and blowing snow.

A Colorado low will move towards Minnesota Tuesday night bringing a heavy swath of snow through most of southern Manitoba. The snow will start early Tuesday evening near the International border then push northward throughout the night. By Wednesday morning heavy snow will be falling in much of the area as the storm continues to push northward. Strong northerly winds will develop with this system and persist into Friday morning as the low slowly pivots through Minnesota on it’s way into northwestern Ontario.

For the City of Winnipeg and points southeastward, a break in the snow may occur on Wednesday afternoon or evening before snow re-intensifies overnight into Thursday. 15 to 20 cm is likely by Wednesday afternoon, with a further 15 to 20 cm likely with the second area of snow overnight Wednesday through Thursday and Thursday night.

By Friday morning, widespread snowfall accumulations of 30 to 40 cm are likely.

Travel will become increasingly difficult as the day progresses Wednesday, with widespread highway closures a near-certainty. By Wednesday evening even travel within communities may become impossible as the heavy snow and strong winds continue… and more of the same is expected on Thursday.

Do not plan to travel – this storm has the potential to be the worst blizzard in decades. Stock up on needed supplies and medications now. Power outages are likely, rural areas in particular should be prepared for extended outages.

Conditions should begin to improve on Friday as the winds taper off and the heaviest snow moves into northern Ontario…although the clean-up after this storm will likely last well into next week.

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Rapidly accumulating snow will make travel difficult. There may be a significant impact on rush hour traffic in urban areas. Heavy snowfall accumulation combined with strong winds may cause damage to trees or other structures. Poor weather conditions may contribute to transportation delays.

Winter storm warnings are issued when multiple types of severe winter weather are expected to occur together.


As I write this, the main body of the system is over North Dakota as mostly snow, shifting to mostly rain across Minnesota. Though the system is being pushed almost straight North, it’s going East enough that it looks like the most severe weather will pass over the southern border where Manitoba and Ontario meet, with the rain in Minnesota turning to snow quickly, as it heads into Ontario. The system is very wide, from East to West, but it’s now looking like Saskatchewan is going to be spared the worst of it. My nephew and his family are still thinking of making the drive out, but a day later than originally planned.

We’ll see how things actually turn out.

Until then, things continue as usual.

Ghost Baby has been coming out every morning, of late, and not being a ghost at all. My guess is that it’s because she’s pregnant and very hungry.

Just look at those silly kitties, crowding around the one tray on the ground, when there are four other trays inside the kibble house! Altogether, I saw 14 kitties this morning.

While switching out the memory card on the sign cam, I was finally able to find something – it just had to wait for more snow to melt, and the leaf litter to dry before I could see it.

This is one of the closures from the trail cam. I’d been able to find the wire latch, but the black plastic leaver with the hinge were too dark to see on dark wet ground.

Of course, it’s the top latch that broke. The bottom latch is still intact and should be enough to keep the camera closed enough for the weather seal to keep working, but with this latch broken, there is more of a possibility that moisture will get in.

There are a lot of things I like about this camera, but it has one major failing. I cannot handle our cold. When the temperatures drop, the LED screen stops working, and I have to warm it up with my hands to be able to see the settings while changing the micro disc card. Any colder, and it simply stops recording and the batteries freeze. At least it does start working again on its own, when the batteries warm up again. And now I find the plastic becomes more brittle due to the cold, too. At least I hope it’s due to the cold. Otherwise, it’s just cheap plastic.

Ah, well. Live and learn.

I would still recommend this camera is you live somewhere with warmer winters than what we get. For most of Canada, however, I’d say don’t bother. There are other brands with the features this one has that I like. They cost a lot more, but you get what you pay for!

Meanwhile…

We are still working on our Easter preparations. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go to the blessing of the baskets on Saturday, but we’re still making it. This year, we’re doing the eggs differently. Instead of dying them in the shell, we’re doing different types and colours of pickled eggs. Right now, we’ve got pink pickled eggs in the fridge, using the brine from our out pickled beets. We’re also going to do a soy sauce brine for brown, and turmeric brine for yellow. I boiled up a whole bunch of eggs already, and finished peeling the last of them this morning. We have just enough mostly-undamaged eggs to do 6 of each type of pickle… and a bunch of ugly ones for egg salad. 😀 After that, the only thing we have left to do is bake our fancy Easter bread. 🙂

Easter has always been my favourite Holy Day, and our basket tradition the one I’ve always looked forward to the most!

The Re-Farmer

Getting stuff done outside

Though today has gotten a bit colder than yesterday, at -15C/5F, it’s a lot calmer out there, and bright and sunny. We are actually reading a wind chill of -21C/-6F, but the wind is from the north, and we are well sheltered in that direction.

Which means I got more done outside!

Of course, feeding the critters was top of the list.

I counted 18 this morning. I did not see Ghost Baby, and I think Junk Pile is the other “missing” cat. I was quite happy to see both Butterscotch and Nosencrantz this morning.

Nosencrantz doesn’t look too happy to see me, though! 😀 She’s all “stop petting me, and taking my picture. I’m trying to eat!”

I was able to do a burn this morning, scrape the sidewalk clear, and dig out some of the blown over paths.

Though we didn’t get much snow, the blowing winds made a big difference. I was lifting out solid chunks of snow. I actually took advantage of that while shoveling around the burn barrel, to make a higher “wall” around it. This is snow fort building snow! 😀

The path to the compost was so solid, I ended up having to bring the ice scraper to break it up before I could use the shovel. Because of the wind direction, the path from the compost ring to the back door of the garage was almost clear, and the shelter of the garage kept the path to the outhouse from getting drifted over.

We’re supposed to get snow starting tomorrow evening. I’m now seeing snowfall warnings of 20-35cm (8-14 inches), however they are mostly for the south and eastern parts of the province. We shouldn’t get anywhere near as much, where we are. Local forecast is currently for 5-10cm (2-4 inches).

So if there’s anything we need to get in town, just in case, now is the time to do it!

Well. Maybe after we’ve shoveled the end of the driveway again.

The Re-Farmer

So you want to grow a “survival garden”

For at least a decade, there has been an increase in people who have decided to move out of the cities, get themselves an acreage, and live as self-sufficiently as possible.

Which is basically, how I grew up.

Things have really changed, though, and modern homesteaders have a lot more resources, options and choices than was available when I was a kid, 50 years ago, never mind what our pioneers had. I found this very encouraging to see.

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A couple of decades ago, while part of an online homeschooling support group – pre-social media, when everything was by email (and dinosaurs roamed the earth) – I often saw people waxing poetic about how we all need to go “back to the land”, and live these organic, subsistence lives, and all our food would be free and we would barter for everything else, and so on. It had a lot more to do with ideology than anything else. Going back to the farm was a dream of mine since I moved away in my late teens, so I could appreciate many of the sentiments they expressed. Unfortunately, this romanticized view was wildly unrealistic, and I found myself trying to remind people that there are reasons people, including farmers, moved away from that life.

Most of them didn’t get it.

Once we moved to the farm, 4 years ago, in a caretaker role, how things were done when I was a kid just wasn’t an option, and I’m quite okay with that. Most of the land is rented out, so we just have our corner to work on. My mother had a massive garden that had been slowly neglected for many years, as my parents retired from farming and age reduced their mobility, no matter how much my siblings tried to help. We can finally work on our dream to be as self-sufficient as possible, but we have to do a lot of things differently than how we did it when I was a kid.

It was in researching this that I found this dynamic and growing homesteading community. These were people who may have gone in starry eyed, but were also realistic and determined, and they were making it work. The aging hippies I couldn’t get through to all those years ago, with their ideological blinders, could never have done what these awesome people were doing. It was very exciting!

Then, the last couple of years happened.

As people saw their jobs disappearing, their livelihoods destroyed, prices skyrocketing, and government restrictions stifling people’s ability to do some of the most basic things, a lot of people are suddenly having real concerns about being able to feed themselves and their families.

During WWII, governments actively encouraged families to grow Victory Gardens, and even gave out information and resources to help people do it. That sort of thing isn’t happening now. Instead, we are having to rely on each other to figure out how to grow what, for too many people, are literally survival gardens.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to start growing as much food for yourself as you can, I heartily encourage you! You won’t get any sermons or lectures from me. I do hope that I can, at the very least, provide some information and inspiration.

Start where you’re at

Your circumstances are going to be unique to you. If you’re already on an acreage, great. If all you’ve got to work with is a hall closet and some makeshift grow lights, great. You can start where you’re at, even if it’s just poking some holes in a bag of potting soil to grow some greens in a sunny window. Little by little, it’ll get done!

What I will be sharing here is going to be geared mostly to people living in colder climates – and by that, I meant Zone 2 or 3 (depending on what Canadian zone maps are being used, we live in either 3a or 2b).

I will add one thing I’ve heard quite a number of very experienced, prolific gardeners say. If they had to depend on their gardens for survival, they’d starve! It takes a lot to grow enough food to actually provide enough for even one person to last from preservation to the next year’s harvest, and it will still need to be supplemented with other things. I’m still somewhat amused and perplexed by my mother trying to lure us out here by saying we could grow a garden and not have to buy groceries anymore. Even as big as her garden was, plus having chickens and cows, sometimes pigs, turkeys and geese, a root cellar and lots of canning and freezing, we still had to buy groceries.

So you’re still going to need to buy stuff. Hopefully, just a lot less!

With that in mind, as you plan what to grow in your own personal survival garden, here are some things to consider when making decisions.

Grow what you will eat.

I’ve looked at so many lists out there, for things like what to grow to feed a family for a year, or what to grow in your climate, and so on, and frankly, a lot of stuff on those lists are foods I just don’t like. Others, I can’t eat. There are four of us in our household, and we have very different tastes. Which means that our focus will be more on growing things all of us enjoy eating, then including smaller amounts of things only one or two of us like to eat. As wonderful and appetizing as I find tomatoes and bell peppers, they both make gag, but two people in our household enjoy eating them, and all of us can eat processed tomatoes. Now, those two people REALLY like their tomatoes, so growing more of those than peppers for fresh eating makes sense, as well as growing a lot of tomatoes that are good for making tomato paste to last us for months. It’s a sort of juggling game.

Try new things

What we find in the grocery stores is there because those varieties can handle large scale growing and transportation. When you’re growing your own, you can have a lot more choices. This is a time to grow new varieties of things you know you like, and if you have the space and resources for it, grow something you’ve always wanted to try, but couldn’t for one reason or another. Which kinda ties in with my next point to consider.

Grow at least one thing for fun

Yes, growing food to ensure your family has something to eat when times are tough is serious business. The whole point of the list I’ll be presenting to you is to be able to get as much bang for your buck as you can. At the same time, growing something just for fun is a great morale booster. As you go through what various seed companies and nurseries have to offer, you’re bound to find something that just puts a smile on your face. If you have the space and resources for it, go for it!

Keep in mind your region, climate and particular circumstances.

While the zone maps are very handy, that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. There are things my mother successfully grew in our Zone 3 that were rated at Zone 5. She didn’t even doing anything different for them, either! This is a good time to find and get involved with a community of people in your region and zone, online or off, to learn from. If you are growing outdoors, look at what is rated for your zone, but also consider whether you can create microclimates. If you have only a balcony or patio, there are lots of places where you can learn about container gardening or vertical gardening. If you are growing indoors, there are resources geared specifically for that.

Storage and preservation

If you’re growing food to feed your family, and trying to grow as much as possible in your space, it’s not going to be much good if you grow more than you can eat, but can’t preserve it! There are many options available; freezing, dehydrating, water bath canning, pressure canning and even freeze drying, if you can afford the machine! You might even be able to create a root cellar in some corner of your home. Refrigerator pickling and fermenting are options, if you don’t have canning equipment.

If you’re going to store and preserve food, you’ll need somewhere to put it. What methods you have available to save your food will help you decide what makes the most sense for you to grow.

Things will go wrong. Do it anyway

One thing that is going to happen is, there will be failures at some point. It’s inevitable. Sometimes, you’ll make a mistake. Sometimes, there will be circumstances completely out of your control. It happens. The beauty is, you can still fail “up”. Honestly, you’ll probably learn more from the failures than the successes! Of course, it’s always a good idea to learn from others as much as you can to avoid failures, but it’s still going to happen. Since being here at the farm for 4 years, and only gardening for 2, we knew we were trying to grow in far from ideal conditions, and had some setbacks, yet we still managed to have food from our own garden that we could enjoy.

When it came to making a list of things that might work well in a survival garden, I looked for things that could be grown in colder climates, had high yields, and could be stored or preserved, while also keeping time in mind. So let’s start with the fastest growing things, first!

Super-short term

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There are quite a few things that can go from seed to plate in less than a month. Some in less than 10 days! Micro-greens and sprouts can be grown very quickly, can be grown indoors in trays or jars, continually throughout the year. Many seed companies now has sections for sprouts, and quite a variety of things can be grown for their sprouts. Many sprouts can be grown in jars – alfalfa, mung beans, lentils, radishes, and more. Gelatinous seeds, such as flax, chia, cress, arugula and psyllium, can be sprouted in trays. For microgreens, you can try beets, swiss chard, broccoli, cress, peas, radishes and sunflowers.

If you want to give things a bit more time, leafy greens such as pretty much any type of leaf lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, bok choi and radishes can be grown and harvested very quickly. Many of these don’t like heat much, so they can be planted outdoors early in the spring and sowed successively until the heat of summer, then sowed again for a fall crop.

These quick growing plants are nutritional power houses, but they don’t have a lot of calories. They’re not going to keep anyone going for long, so it’s good to think of these as a supplement, and something that can provide nutrition until other foods can be harvested.

Short term

By “short term”, I am talking about the things we typically think of in our annual vegetable gardens. These are things that can take a few months before you can start harvesting anything, and can potentially keep feeding you and your family throughout the winter, with proper storage and preservation.

Root vegetables: carrots, parsnips, beets, radish bulbs, turnips, rutabagas… there are many to choose from, and many varieties of each! Stored properly, they can last for months on their own, but they can also be pickled, pressure canned, frozen, and dehydrated. With these, they are one seed, one plant (except beets; their seeds are actually clusters of seeds), but they produce so many seeds, most packets will provide more than needed for a typical household.

Bulbs and tubers: potatoes, sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes – yes, there is a cold hardy variety of sweet potatoes out there! – bulb fennel, celeriac and more.

There are many varieties of potatoes, some more prolific than others, and some better for storage than others. A good source of seed potatoes will give that information. Potatoes also come in determinate and indeterminate varieties. Indeterminates are good for potato bags and towers, while determinate are good for hilling or Ruth Stout growing methods. Sunchokes will grow in just about any type of soil, and can be so prolific, they are sometimes considered invasive.

Special mention: the alliums are excellent bulbs to grow, but tend to require a lot more time, unless you are starting onions and shallots from sets, or spring garlic. Hard neck garlic needs to be planted in the fall, while onions and shallots from seed – which gives a lot more choice in varieties – need to be started indoors very early. In my garden groups, I’ve found Zone 3 gardeners that start their onions from seed as early as January! Onions also come in long day and short day varieties. If you are in a northern Zone, look for long day varieties. Of course, some varieties store longer than others but, properly cured and stored, they can last a very long time! Onion greens can be eaten as the bulbs mature, and hard neck garlic produces scapes that need to be removed to produce bigger bulbs, and they are delicious, making them dual crops to grow.

Summer squash and zucchini: There are many varieties of summer squash, and they all tend to be quite prolific. Just a couple of plants can provide plenty of baby squash that mature fairly quickly, and if they are left to grow larger, some varieties can be stuffed and baked. Most summer squash start to get tough as they get larger, and are not a storage vegetable, but they can be pickled, canned, frozen and dehydrated. Zucchini is a bit of an exception, in that it can be used as both a summer squash while small, or a winter squash if allowed to grow to full size.

Winter squash and pumpkins: These are squash that can grow to sometimes colossal sizes, but there are also varieties that are small, fast maturing and very prolific. Once they reach maturity, the fruits are cured and can be stored for the winter months. Some varieties reach their best flavour after weeks or months in storage. They can also be frozen, canned, shredded and dehydrated.

Legumes: there are few vegetables out there that provide more bang for your buck than legumes! Especially beans. Bush beans can be grown for their pods, and when they’re done producing is about when pole beans are ready for harvesting, and of course there are shelling beans, which are grown for their fully mature and dry seeds. Peas, chick peas and lentils can also provide a lot of food from just a few plants. Dried legumes, stored properly, can last for years, making them one of the most efficient foods to grow.

We could fit about a hundred of these tiny Spoon tomatoes into a single Red Solo cup.

Tomatoes: tomatoes are a fruit that deserve their own category. The varieties available is staggering! However, if you are looking to get the most pounds per plant, look at growing a mid sized variety. Aside from fresh eating, they can be frozen, canned or dehydrated on their own, or be used as an ingredient for sauces and salsas, and so much more.

Cucumbers: As with tomatoes, there are a really amazing number of cucumber varieties available, but most fall into one of two categories; slicers, for fresh eating, and picklers, for preserving. They all tend to be fast growing and very prolific, too.

Peppers: I wasn’t sure about including peppers on this list. They are excellent producers, but growing them in our colder climate seems to be touch and go. I’ve heard from people who have had great success with them, while others have tried for many years, but have never had a harvest. Peppers can be canned, preserved in oil, frozen, dehydrated, pickled and made into relishes.

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Mid term

While being able to grow food quickly is important, it is also useful to consider the long haul. If you have the space for it, there are things that may take several years before they begin producing, but once they do, the harvests will be bounteous!

Asparagus: asparagus can be grown from seed or you can buy crowns to transplant into trenches. It can take three years before they can be harvested, and even then, for the first year or two, harvests should be minimal. Once they are established, however, asparagus will keep producing for up to 20 years!

Raspberries, currants, gooseberries and haskaps: Haskaps are the new berries on the block, and are exceptionally cold hardy. They require male and female plants to produce, and can potentially begin producing berries in their first year. Raspberries are available as regular cane (new canes produce berries in their second year, then die back) or primal cane (new canes produce berries in their first year). Choosing varieties that mature at different times can give you fresh berries for months. Currants and gooseberries, once established, can produce fruit for many years. Berry bushes can provide a great deal of fruit per plant. Along with being used fresh, frozen or dehydrated, as well as made into jams and jellies, they can be used to make vinegars, syrups and wines.

Grapes: yes, there are Zone 3 grape varieties. I’ve even seen a Zone 2 variety. Grape vines are very long lived, and have the potential to provide fresh and frozen fruit, jelly, and wines for many years.

Hedge bushes and trees: There are a number of larger berry bushes that can double as shelter belts and natural boarders. Some, like sea buckthorn and bison berry, do well in poor soils, and while they may be considered invasive in warmer climates, they tend not to be, in our Zone 3. The Rugosa rose produces large edible hips, and their flower petals are edible, too. Saskatoons are a more of a tree than a bush, and absolutely delicious. Chokecherries produce many berries, but are better used in syrups, vinegars, etc. than eaten fresh. Many of these will provide enough berries not only for your own use, but for birds as well!

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

Long Term

Now we’re really going for the long haul! Here, we are looking at things that can take five or ten years before they start producing food – but once they do, they will continue for decades to come.

Fruit trees: there are a remarkable number of fruit trees that can grow in colder zones. Apples, pears, apricots, cherries and plums can all be grown here. While a single mature tree can provide enough fruit for the entire family, many need to be planted with a pollinator, which can be a different variety.

Nut trees: there are not a lot of nut trees that can grow in Zone 3, but some, like the Korean Pine, are hardy to Zone 2! Hazelberts and beaked hazelnuts are also very hardy. Others, such as the black walnut, can grow in Zone 3, but the nuts may not have enough for a growing season to fully mature.


Okay, so all this is a lot more than just a “survival” garden, but we all start somewhere, right? 🙂 Little by little, it’ll get done!

I hope you find these useful in working out what are the best things for you to start growing in your own particular situation.

For those who have already been doing this for a while, please feel free to leave a comment, sharing your own experiences. What worked best for you? What didn’t work? Is there anything you would tell someone who is just starting out now? Let us know!

The Re-Farmer

Mmm… puffball slurry!

Okay, I should have done this yesterday, or at least earlier today, but too many other things kept distracting me away. So now I finally have it started.

Puffball slurry.

The spores in the packet are done the same way as the morels were; as little grains.

The package instructions said to put water in a gallon glass jar. I don’t have a gallon sized glass jar available, so I ended up using one of the gallon sized jugs from the distilled water we get for my husband’s CPAP humidifier. It’s food grade plastic, so that should be fine.

The instructions called for distilled or any other non-chlorinated water, so well water it was. Then they called for a pinch of salt (?!?!) and a small spoonful of molasses, which was then to be mixed with a clean wooden spoon until the salt was dissolved.

Such a strange mix of precise and imprecise instructions! 😀

Well, there was no way to use a spoon in the jug I was using, so after adding a bit of salt and a pouring in a blob of molasses, I put the cap back on and shook it until the molasses was dissolved. The salt dissolved pretty much right away, so that wasn’t an issue.

The instructions then said to “brush” the spores in, but since the spores were in those handy pellets, I just dumped them in. Now it is supposed to sit, undisturbed, for two days.

Actually, the instructions said to place the slurry “… where it will be disturbed…” 😀 I suspect translation issues!

Anyhow.

Two days would actually be Saturday night, but since I’m not going to go pouring puffball slurry around in the dark, Sunday morning it is!

Like the morels, it could be a couple of years before these fruit, and it’s entirely possible they won’t take at all. No loss in trying, though, and if it works, we could find ourselves with puffballs big enough to cut into steaks! 😀 Much easier than the little ones we normally get around here. 🙂

Meanwhile, I have taken today as a break from heavier manual labour to give my body a chance to recover a bit. My husband, darling that he is, has been treating my hands with his zapper (needle-less acupuncture). One hand is pretty much back to normal now, but the ring finger on my right hand is still a problem. I may have actually injured it, somehow, aside from the usual arthritis. Whatever I did to it, I can at least say with confidence that nothing is broken, and I can at least still type. It’s a good thing I’m left handed in most things, too.

Aside from running some errands, we’ve been working on processing that big bag of dill my brother and his wife gave us. Our entire dining table is covered with towels, and my younger daughter and I have been working it in batches, as we’ve had the chance. There are a lot of mature seeds in there, and we’ve been talking about what to do with them. We want to basically set aside an area for the dill where they can self-seed to their heart’s content, and we don’t have to worry about them popping up when we’re trying to grow something else. We seem to have settled on the area next to the low raised beds that are being set up. It has been partially cleaned up, and because of various old tree stumps and roots, as well as spreading roots from those cherry trees that are not right for our climate, it’s not like we’re ever going to expand garden beds further in. If, for some reason, that spot doesn’t work out, I can think of another area where it might work to have a dill jungle. 🙂

I am hoping to get back to taking down more dead trees and breaking them down for the high raised beds we will be building over the next while. I also want to do a thorough weeding of the empty beds, and letting them sit to allow any missed weeds to start growing, so I can pull them when it’s time to actually move the top soil and build the beds. We don’t have a lot of material left to use when refilling the bottom layers of the beds, but we will soon be able to start raking leaves, which will be good to use. Plus, we should be able to get another lawn mowing in before the end of the season, and have fresh grass clippings as well. So for now, the more dead trees we can cut and process, the better.

Little by little, it’ll get done!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden: Checking the haskap and planning ahead

This morning, none of the kitties were cooperative about getting their pictures taken, so I had to settle for something that didn’t move.

Much.

😉

While doing my rounds these days, I check all the areas we planted things in the fall. I found more garlic coming up under the mulch, but we’re still leaving them covered. Ideally, we’d have plastic row covers over them, but we don’t have any sort of hoops or frames to hold it up right now. They’ll be fine; a cover would just kick start them a bit more.

This morning, I decided to clean up the old flower stalks in the bed our two haskap bushes are in. Those flowers are among the things my mother insists we keep, but I wanted to open up the space around the bushes more, so if a few fresh roots came up with the flower stalks, I didn’t mind.

This meant I finally got the first good look at how the haskaps were doing.

I had to hold the branches to get a photo, because of the wind! 😀

This is the male plant, and it’s starting to leaf out quite nicely! It did well last year, too.

It’s the female plant that I am more concerned about.

Last year, I was sure it had died, but it did grow and even managed to produce a couple of berries. It’s still very weak and spindly, with branches so thin, the camera on my phone couldn’t focus on them! There’s the tiniest bit of green showing, though, so at least I can tell it’s still alive. We need to pick up a couple more of the female plants. I never saw any last year, so we will likely have to order them in.

I want to side dress the ones we have with our nice, new garden soil, but probably not today. It started to snow while I was out there. The snow has already stopped, but it’s going to stay chilly today. We’re supposed to warm up a lot over the next two days, then get snow again. During those two warm days, I’m hoping to start prepping the areas at the chain link fence, so we’ll be able to tend the nearby haskap at the same time.

We’ve been saving our cardboard for the past while, and will be laying that over the grass between this bed and the chain link fence, then adding a layer of old straw before topping with soil. This is where the tomatoes will be planted, with the fence to use as support. On the other side of the person gate, we’ll lay cardboard down as well, but that side is where we’re planning to put the remaining old chimney blocks to use as planters. This year, they will be used for the cucamelons but, in the future, they will be good for anything we need to keep contained. We still need to get those blocks out of the old basement. We ended up having to use them to barricade the screen “door” we made over the opening between the two basements. The cats were managing to push their way through, so we’ll have to find an alternate way of bracing the frame before we can remove the blocks. Unfortunately, the opening is basically just a hole that was cut into the wall around the time the new basement was built, so it’s oddly shaped, plus the floors are at slightly different levels. It makes creating a barrier the cats can’t push through much more challenging! Once we figure that out, we can haul the blocks out. I do want to keep one in the new basement, though. I found it was the perfect height to use as a hard surface to brace on while I was rough shaping wood to carve. The rest will be set up along the chain link fence. We want to transplant the grapes to the chain link fence, where they will get more sunlight, but not this year.

I keep forgetting that we also have some chain link fence on the other side of the vehicle gate. Just a short stretch to the garage. Part of it is shaded by the garage in the morning, but it does get full sun overall. It’s another area we can keep in mind for any future garden plots for things than need support. There’s a lot more of the chain link fencing towards the west, but that stretch doesn’t get much sunlight. Once we clean up the dead branches and trees on the outside of the fence, it’ll be better and we’ll have more options.

It feels great to finally be able to start these preparations now, even though we can’t plant anything for almost another month, at the earliest. Getting the soil delivered yesterday means we can work on different areas a little at a time, rather than rushing to get it all done at once, later.

Little by little, it’ll get done! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

This is going to be an odd Christmas

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

Leyendecker is undisturbed by human regulations and restrictions! 😀

Normally, our tree would have already been decorated, and the Advent wreath, with its candles, set up.

It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to have a tree this year. The cats just seem to wait until we’re not around, then go after it. The main problem is, there’s really just one place that works well for a tree in this house, and there isn’t any way to stabilize it. At least not without making holes for hooks in places I really don’t want to put holes.

So we’re thinking of using a garland that looks like spruce branches in place of a tree, and focus more on decorating the house.

At least, up near the ceiling! 😀

As for the Advent wreath, I forgot we no longer had candles. There are supposed to be 4 of them. Three in blue or purple, one in pink. One after another is symbolically lit on each Sunday of Advent. A 5th candle, in white and representing Christ, can be included, to be lit on Christmas day.

If I’d remembered we burned away the last of our supply of these candles last year, I would have gone hunting for them long ago. I’d found them at Michael’s before, but outside of boxed sets specifically put together for Advent, it’s hard to find the right colours, this time of year. Michael’s, of course, is shut down right now, along with all the other “non essential” stores. Churches are shut down, too, so there’s another potential source no longer available.

I did have other candles, though. I have a silver candelabra my husband bought for me years ago, that holds 3 candles – and I had kept the candles from the last time we’d used it. They’re gold instead of blue or purple, and only about 4 inches long, but they’ll do. In place of the pink candle, I have a white one. For the Christ candle, I have another white one, marked with a cross, that had been included in our traditional Easter basket for blessing.

Yesterday, I helped my mother do her grocery shopping. Her building is closed off to all but residents and staff, so she had to meet me outside. She wasn’t wearing her face shield, but the surgical mask under her nose again. When I asked why, she ignored me, so I suspect she’s afraid of being hassled, even with the shield. She had to go to the bank, first and had called ahead to make an appointment the day before. She was told she could come any time during opening hours, and given instructions. They don’t allow anyone into the bank anymore. There’s a table set up in the vestibule. Only one person allowed at a time. Not that there’s room in there for more. My mother filled out what she needed, then knocked on the door. When someone came over, they couldn’t even open the door very far, because there was no room with her walker in there.

I waited outside while she sat in her walker. Some guy came by, wanting to go in. After confirming with me that my mother was not waiting in line, but had already been helped, and that I was not waiting in line, either, he read the signs while putting on his mask. He read the “one person in the vestibule at a time”, then asked, “what’s a vestibule?” 🙂 It is not a word that is commonly used out here!

Then he decided to try and get into the bank.

Yup. Went in, with my mother, and tried to open the locked inner door.

*sigh*

I don’t know what my mother said to him, but I heard him answering “I know that” as he left. 😀

We started chatting about the ridiculousness of it all (seriously; in that tiny space, if the virus were an issue around here, which it isn’t, it’s like they’d created the very conditions it would most likely be spread!), and he started going on about how the reason we were having so many problems was because all the kids are allowed to go to school and spread the bacteria.

Yes. He said bacteria.

Thinking he may have misspoke, I mentioned it was a virus, and he just brushed it off and kept talking about how all these asymptomatic kids are getting everyone sick by spreading the bacteria.

Thankfully, my mother was soon done and I had to help her with the doors. Because, of course, they’re not using the entry with automated doors for persons with disabilities.

*sigh*

The rest of the trip was uneventful, and my mother is now well stocked for a while. I made a point of bringing our folding wagon along, so while my mother unlocked the side door closer to her apartment, I loaded it up and brought it over. She then had to push her walker while pulling the wagon to get her groceries in, then bring it back. If I weren’t concerned about her being hassled, I would have gone in anyway. 😦

Since I was out with my mother yesterday, it was today that I started something for Christmas that I’ve been wanting to try for some time.

I cooked up a baking soda and cornstarch dough. My intention was to make cookie cutter ornaments with it. I have a set of cutters that are meant more for gingerbread house type dough, that make interlocking pieces. Once dry, the pieces can be put together to make a 3D tree, star or reindeer. I had another set of cookie cutters in a variety of Christmas themed shapes.

It didn’t work.

I think I might not have cooked the dough long enough or something, but I cooked it until it was so thick, I couldn’t stir it anymore, so it should have worked. Yet it was way too soft to be able to do anything after cutting the shapes I wanted. After several attempts, I gave up and offered the dough to the girls. They made a bunch of little sculptures, instead, which will take several days to dry.

I guess I’ll just stick with the orange slice decorations I was going to start on while the baking soda dough ones dried.

It’s funny. With having moved so many times over the years, and now with my husband’s mobility so reduced, there is nothing unusual about having Christmas with just the 4 of us. Since we were already living on my husband’s disability payments, we’re used to being extremely fugal. Living in relative isolation, a lot of the restrictions and regulations don’t affect us directly most of the time. Yet, the long tentacles of government overreach is affecting even us. When we do go into town, we’re not allowed to buy anything Christmas related (unless it’s for pets; you can buy all the Christmas themed pet toys you want, but you can’t buy toys for human children), nor books and magazines, most clothing, and so many other things government talking heads have decided are not “essential”. All of this is affecting everyone, as prices for basic necessities, have to go up in response. So people like us and my mother – who at least have incomes, as small as they are – are going to be having a harder time of it. Gas prices are going down again, but there is nowhere to go. Supposedly, the lock down is going to end on Dec. 11, but our premier is already saying it’s not going to be lifted much, and telling people not to get together with family for Christmas, even with the reduced restrictions.

Meanwhile, it’s our seniors in long term care in the city, surrounded by people in PPE, but no family or loved ones, and no activities to help combat cognitive decline or loneliness, that are dying. Not necessarily of the virus, but of starvation, dehydration and neglect. Meanwhile, my mother can’t even find out how her sister is doing; her niece isn’t returning her calls (not sure what’s going on there), and my mother can’t navigate the automated phone system to talk to a human being. I’m not on the list of people they’re allowed to talk to, so I can’t find out for her.

I think I’ll call, anyway, and ask them to phone my mother or something.

It’s going to be a very strange Christmas.

The Re-Farmer

Half shop, and bubble!

First up, Happy Thanksgiving to all our visitors from the US! I hope you are having a wonderful day! 🙂

Today was my day to go into the city for our monthly stock up.

I was really dreading it.

I’m part of a local, private, online group where people around our province share where it is safe to shop for people who can’t wear masks. Since our province went into “enhanced lock down,” some places have gone full gestapo. The Costco I normally go to has always been really great, but something changed. Now, masks or shields are required, or no one is allowed in. I know quite a few people who cannot wear even a face shield, at all (largely due to PTSD), and they reported some pretty awful responses from the management. Worse, people were reporting that police have started patrolling the stores and parking lots at all Costco locations. They have been approaching people in their vehicles, when there is more than one person, demanding to know if they were from the same household. One woman had an officer come back to her vehicle and ticket her, for being part of a freedom protest a couple of weeks ago. How the officer determined who she was or if she were even at that protest, she didn’t know. Inside the store, people were reporting being hassled, medical exemptions being denied, and management being downright abusive. A different Costco location than the one I usually go to, which was already known for not being a safe place, has gotten even worse.

As you can imagine, I was quite concerned. Yes, I would be wearing a shield, but even people with shields were reporting being denied entry to some stores, getting harassed by security, and so on.

Normally, a daughter comes with me, but with the “enhanced lock down”, I wasn’t sure we would both be allowed into any stores at the same time. So I went alone, just in case.

Normally, we do a drive through breakfast, then Walmart, then an international grocery store, then Costco, so that stuff that is frozen, or needs refrigeration, is in the vehicle for the shortest possible time.

Today, I skipped the drive through, and bought most of what was on my list at Walmart. I walked in with my shield, and no one batted an eye. I was the only person I saw with a shield instead of a mask, the entire time. I did get odd looks from a couple of customers, but with their faces hidden, I really couldn’t tell what their full expressions where. One old guy just stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me. ???

The last thing I got at the Walmart was a small tray of sushi for breakfast to eat in the van, then headed to the international grocery store. I was able to get the rest of what was on my list there. This place is awesome, and I probably would have been fine without even the face shield, but I didn’t want to take a chance of them getting fined $5000; something else our provincial government has started to do.

Along with what was on my list, I also found something I was quite excited about, in the Indian food aisle.

Duram wheat flour!

We’re going to be making pasta! 😀

It doesn’t take much for me to get excited. 😉

Best of all, though, I was able to skip Costco entirely.

Since neither place had flat carts, I wasn’t able to get things in the same amount we normally would. I basically did a half-shop, as far as quantities go, so we will need to make a second trip. Especially for the heavy stuff, like cat food and litter. Most of the smaller, lighter stuff, we can get locally without hurting the budget too badly. The lock down is supposed to end on Dec. 11, so we have at least enough to last until then. I don’t expect the lock down to actually end, though. From what I’m seeing, I expect things to get worse, not better. And I don’t mean the virus. I hope I’m wrong.

Once I got home, and the girls and I were putting everything away, I happened to see something odd through the semi-transparent lid of our flour container. So I opened it to check.

It’s a bubble!!

The “bread egg” I buried in there managed to expand a bubble far enough to break through the top of the flour!

Well, at least I know that yeast is still active and happy! 😀

Tonight, I’ll be fishing it out to soak overnight, to continue my Babcia’s bread experiment.

But I digress…

One thing I made sure to do as I headed out, was bring our pulse oximeter. After the issues I had before, I wanted to monitor myself. I used it before I left and I can’t say I was surprised to see my heart rate was at 112 – I was already pretty stressed! – but my oxygen was at 95%. I typically read at 97 or 98, so this is low for me. The “normal” range is 95-100%, unless a person has something like COPD or some other lung disease. Anything from 88-94% is still considered safe, but below that, it’s recommended to get medical help.

While I was shopping, every now and then I would pause and take a reading. When my levels were below 95%, I would do some breathing exercises, watch my levels go back up again, then continue. I remember one reading where my % was okay, but my heart rate had gone up to 126!

I am really glad I brought it along.

I’m really glad we had one I could bring along!

One thing all of these mask mandates and trying to wear a shield has done, is make me more aware of my own breathing. I mean, really, who even thinks about it normally, right? Well, I’ve started to notice that I’m having issues at other times. Like while I was driving home, I found myself short of breath, and opening the window a bit to get more air flow. I’ve even noticed times when I’d be sitting at my computer, then suddenly gasping for air. What the heck?

I have kept the oximeter with me since getting home, and every now and then, I’ll do a quick test.

My heart rate has gone down to about 68-70, which is good.

My oxygen has dropped down as low as 93%.

What the heck is going on?

I don’t feel anything is off or out of the ordinary, except possibly my sinuses. My husband suggested I might be having an allergic reaction to something. Normally, I get that in the summer, when I’m working outside. I have no idea what I’m allergic to, other than it’s something environmental. I’ve had allergy tests to try and find the source of my chronic cough, and I’m not allergic to pollen or cats or any of the other usual stuff. So I think I will try taking antihistamines for a few days and see if that changes anything. This is all so very strange.

Anyhow.

We are now stocked for about half the month. With Christmas coming, we don’t expect to do much for special shopping. Most of us have already purchased gifts online, which I hate doing unless it’s for things we cannot buy locally. I’ll have to increase the number of times we go to the post office for the next while. 🙂

One thing I did do, since we will be starting to make pasta, is order a manual pasta machine and a pasta drying rack. They should arrive in the first week of December.

Meanwhile, my daughters let me know we were running low on yeast. At the Walmart, they were mostly out. I got a vacuum packed brick of “instant yeast”, and a small jar of traditional yeast, which is what we prefer. At the international grocery store, however, they had plenty of large jars of the traditional yeast, so I snagged one.

Between our ample stock of flour, yeast and other basic ingredients, we’ll be able to do all sorts of bread baking in the next while, if we want. 🙂

Now that this trip is done, we shouldn’t need to go anywhere, other than the post office or the dump, for quite some time! Hopefully, I’ll at least be able to help my mother with a grocery shopping trip. No visitors are allowed in her building right now, but I can pick her up outside, then bring her bags to the outside doors. The social workers at the senior’s centre have offered to get groceries for her, too, so she should be okay. In her building, they slid notes under everyone’s door, telling everyone that they had to wear masks, even in the hallways – but “graciously” allowed them to be mask free inside their own apartments. !!

How did we ever get to this point? Have we learned nothing from history?

The Re-Farmer

Foiled?

Every year, before we are ready to decorate our artificial Christmas tree, we dig it out of storage and set it up. The idea is to get the cats used to it being there, and we get a chance to remind the older cats, and train the newer cats, that this is NOT a thing they are allowed to go into.

It usually works fairly well, but it’s hard to train the cats to stay out, when there’s no one in the room to catch them in the act.

We have several Christmas trees. One 6 ft “family” tree, and the girls have their own smaller trees for their rooms. Now that they have the second floor as their own “apartment”, they’ve been setting both up in the same room.

With so many rambunctious “teen aged” kittens in the house, my older daughter suggested we use her 4 ft Ikea tree. If we could find a way to raise it up, perhaps we could keep the cats out of it?

Well, we’ve had that tree up in the dining room for a few days now. I went into the storage shed and dug out a couple of tall plant stands to see if one of them would work as a stand.

On the first attempt, the girls set it on one of the stands and used Bungee cords to hold the tree stand in place.

That got knocked over pretty quickly, even though it was on the more stable of the two stands.

We set the tree directly on the floor, and hoped the cats would just investigate it and leave it alone.

Which is generally what they did, when we were around.

Then we could come into the room and find it knocked over.

I even tried putting it on the dining table, which they are not allowed on. Of course, tiny paw prints on the table in the morning shows they still go on it while we are asleep.

Today, I think I found a solution.

I flipped a plant stand upside down.

This might actually work.

We might still have to find a way to attach it to the wall to keep it from being knocked over, but so far, so good!

After a while, we’ll put the lights on and leave it for a day or two. If all goes well, we’ll get it decorated, then hide the stand with something pretty.

Big Rig, at least, appears to have been foiled by the stand! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Preparing for Thanksgiving

Before I start, I want to say Powitaninia! Dziękują za odwiedzanie! to my sudden spike of new visitors from Poland. To jest cudowne mieć wy tutaj.

Today is going to be a busy day for us – and it was a busy day of cats this morning!

On the list of things to do is clean out the eaves troughs (aka gutters), so I left the ladder out after bringing it to the well for the plumbers. The cats don’t seem to mind it there at all. 😀

The painted bird feeder stand is now ready to be put up again, so that’s another thing on the to-do list.

Can you see the little snoot of a hidden kitten?

There he is!

The little kittens now come out to the food bowls here, consistently. Though I have seen one or two explore inside the cat house, they prefer to hide under it, rather than in it!

Also, their mother is getting nasty! Butterscotch has been growling and hissing other cats away from the food bowls, which is not all that atypical. It’s when she goes after her own kittens that it concerns me!

Also on the to-do list is building a simple shelter to keep the snow off the food bowls. One that’s long enough that I can spread them out, instead of crowding them under the makeshift shelter I’ve made on the sawhorses to keep any rain off.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. While the holiday falls on Monday, we will be having our dinner tomorrow, and some preparations are starting today. I’ve got a turkey that should be thawed out by now, and I just finished preparing a brine. I decided to try something different this year, since I happen to have the ingredients. Along with the usual salt, brown sugar and herbs, I’ve added a generous amount of apple cider vinegar (the one that I used as a “starter” for our own vinegar that is still fermenting). Once the brine is cooled down, it will go into our giant stock pot with the turkey, adding enough cold water to completely immerse the bird. Then it will go into the old kitchen to chill for the night.

Having an un-insulated room has come in surprisingly handy for things that need refrigerating, but don’t fit in our refrigerator! It’s not quite cool enough in the summer, but this time of year, it’s perfect for the job.

Probably not too good for our fermenting vinegar, though! 😀

We never stuff our turkey, but I do like to add aromatics into the cavity. When it comes time to roast the turkey tomorrow, I will continue the apple theme. I like to rub the turkey all over with lemon, then put the pieces inside the cavity for extra flavour and moisture. This time, I plan to add apple pieces as well. The bottom of the roasting pan will have some celery sticks, onion slices and carrot pieces laid out to act as a roasting rack, while also adding flavour to the juices that will be used to make a gravy. The turkey itself will be topped with a woven mat of bacon – a trick I learned from my late mother-in-law.

I picked up some things yesterday, to help me with finishing the sun room door, so I will be heading out to work on that right away. I neglected to check the mail yesterday, though. It turns out our bulbs and garlic arrived, but with Monday being a holiday, I won’t be able to pick them up until Tuesday. So the girls and I will use the time to prep where the bulbs will be planted. Given how late in the season it is, and that we are dipping below freezing almost every night now, we will have to make good use of mulch to help the bulbs get the start they need once they’re in the ground.

Lots of work to do before the cold! But we will still take the time to celebrate the many things we have to be thankful for. For all the problems we are finding in this place, it’s still better than where we were before moving out here! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Prepping a cap for an airlock – using the tools at hand

Last year, we made apple cider vinegar using the bright red apples from just one tree. The result was a delicious, delicately pink cider vinegar, and we were looking forward to making it again.

There was just one problem.

The instructions we followed said to put the jar in a dark place, so we tucked it into a cupboard. Unfortunately, it attracted fruit flies. The jar was covered with a coffee filter and they couldn’t get in but, as it fermented, some had bubbled up enough to dampen the paper. Which meant any time we opened the cupboard, we’d find a cloud of fruit flies inside!

Not good.

Since then, we’ve bought the things necessary to make mead. This includes smaller bungs to fit airlocks into gallon jars. We will be using some to make hard apple cider out of our crab apple juice, later. With airlocks being so cheap, I’ve picked up extra, so we could have all our gallon jugs, plus the 5 gallon carboy, all going at once, and still have extras.

This year, I will be taking advantage of our mead making supplies.

Since making the ACV requires using apple pieces, I need to use a wide mouth jar. I also want to make more than last year, so I wanted to use something bigger than a quart jar.

Every now and then, we picked up the big gallon jars of pickles at Costco, and I’ve been keeping the jars. That’s what I’ll be using to make the vinegar this year.

The question then becomes, how do I use an airlock on one of these?

Now, if I had some silicon grommets (which I learned the name of only yesterday), I could drill an appropriately sized hold in a cap, pop on a grommet, and insert an airlock.

I don’t have those. I do have extra bungs, though.

I don’t have anything I can use to simply drill a hole that big into a cap, though, so I had to do it the use-watcha-got way.

The first thing to do was mark the size of hole I needed. After protecting the bung with plastic wrap, I traced around it with permanent marker. As the bung is tapered, the actual size of the hole needs to be slightly larger than the inside of the circle.

With a scrap of wood underneath, I punched a series of holes well within the marked circle, then used pliers to break off the middle.

Working directly over a garbage bag, I used a series of metal files to grind away at the opening to smooth it out, then make it larger.

Once I’d reached the inside of the marked circle, I switched to the Dremel to grind and smooth the metal.

Then it was time to test the size of the opening. A perfect fit!

We’re not done yet!

Though the metal was ground smooth, it still is sharp enough to potentially damage the bung, if I were to push it in tight enough to great a proper seal.

Silicon sealant to the rescue!

I used the same stuff we got to fill screw holes when our satellite dishes got moved, then again, for a final seal in the cracks on the rain barrel we set up by the garden. It’s a multipurpose, indoor/outdoor product that is coming in very handy.

The tube it comes in is also very easy to control, even for a job as small as this. After giving the cap a very through cleaning, I lay a bead down on both sides of the cap, right on the edge of the hole, so that top and bottom would touch and completely cover the metal edge. Basically, I imitated a silicon grommet. This should both protect the bung, and ensure an air-tight seal is created.

Now it just needs time to cure before I can test it again with the bung.

Since we have so many apples, I might make two; one with the airlock, and one without, to see which works better. I’ve also picked up some fancy-schmancy ACV “with mother” to use as a starter (last time, we just used water and sugar). Using just a coffee filter, it relies on exposure to the air to get the bacteria needed for fermentation. So it’s touch and go, whether you get a good bacteria or not. With an airlock, it won’t get that exposure, so using a vinegar with the mother in it will ensure the right kind of bacteria is already in there.

We shall see how it turns out!

The Re-Farmer