Garden Days are Coming…

1-DSC_0510
View of the garden from our lawn

It’s been awhile since I last posted and I do apologize. Life has become absolutely nutso around the farm and with the summer looming, I fear it will only get worse. I’ve really felt the effect of my crazy schedule this past week and as I attempt to catch my breath, I try to think of the times ahead. And then I had a meltdown because the stupid vacuum wouldn’t work and I didn’t have time to fix it because, really, it’s a brand new f$%#ing vacuum and it should work without having to do anything because I most definitely do not have time to deal with it… thank god Clay carefully turned the knob from “hose” to “vacuum” before I murdered it Office Space/fax machine style…

Anyway, work has been very busy and farm work has been very exhausting and the whole “side-by-side” commute has officially lost its charm. Like, seriously. But with challenge comes accomplishment and I can happily say that a longtime goal is coming to fruition. The garden is going in!!!

1-DSC_0494
Posts lined out for pounding
1-DSC_0500
We have a very serious post pounder
1-IMG_3617
And a very high tech fence stretcher
1-IMG_3619
Unrolling the wire
1-fencing 1
This is my “It’s raining and I’m hungry so please stop taking pictures so we can finish this” face….

This past week Clay, Timber and I have been busy putting in the fence posts and putting up the wire for our 8 foot game fence. We have two sides completed, a third laid out and are taking some down time for travel. Clay is in Southern BC for a conference and I will soon be on my way to Washington DC for my cousin’s wedding, but at least we have it started. Next steps are to install our water source, till the acre, install gates and start forming the planting areas. And then of course, plant the hell out of it. I couldn’t be more excited.

1-IMG_3601
I made a trip to a local greenhouse (if you call an hour drive local) and picked up 40 strawberry plants, a few tomatoes, brussel sprouts, sunflowers and marigolds. My wonderful neighbors offered to house them in their greenhouse for me until planting time!
1-IMG_3588
Wyatt hard at work…

In our spare moments, we’ve been screening our topsoil leftover from our build site to put in the garden beds around the house. Not super fun, but necessary. And cheap. We’ve also been collecting sandstone from the property to use as landscaping rocks in the yard as well as the fire pit. Nothing brings a couple together like slinging rocks. As long as it’s not at each other. I love that we have so many resources right on the farm and that we try to utilize them throughout our designs. Brings a whole new meaning to being grateful for what we have.

1-DSC_0469
Clay built us a table screen for our topsoil
1-DSC_0478
It takes some time, but the plants will be thankful
1-IMG_3498
We have a large supply of sandstone on the property
1-IMG_3499
An hour spent piling rocks
1-IMG_3497
Oh look, Wyatt hard at work again… Also, I love that I would rather snap a photo than be concerned about their proximity to the chainsaw…
1-IMG_3489
Sake hard at work
1-IMG_3484
The start of our fence and pathway to the fire pit
1-IMG_3488
Clay found this in the woods somewhere and brought it home for me for an archway. I absolutely love it 🙂
1-IMG_3502
These stones will be buried into the grass eventually
1-DSC_0522
Start of the fire pit collection – also note how much Wyatt’s hair is growing in!!

In coop news, I candled 31 eggs this weekend after realizing the other girls were sneaking eggs under broody Florence. She looked like one of those cartoon hens sitting atop a pile of eggs, poor dear. She was setting 19 eggs by the time I figured out what was going on! I finally got her down to a dozen and set Miss Josephine (who is broody once again) on 11 eggs I bought from a local farmer. I bought seven Easter Egger eggs (blue) and 4 Sizzle eggs (Frizzly/Silkie cross). I found one broken on the coop floor this morning, but the rest seem to be forming wonderfully. Pretty soon we’ll have more chicks than we know what to do with! I also added a wee little Cream Legbar to the flock whom I named Franny. She will also lay blue eggs and after a rough start with the Peck-a-little gang, she’s feeling a lot more comfortable.

1-IMG_3531
Easter Egger and Sizzle eggs

 

1-IMG_3530
Little Miss Franny

May arrived and with it a freaking snow storm… seriously, this is a neighbors pasture on Wednesday May 6:

1-IMG_3631
Blarg!

But the beauty of the North is – what a difference a day makes. Our farm on Thursday May 7:

1-IMG_3634
My lunch break while working at home

I must say, even though I’m more tired than I have ever been in my life, I sure am loving this farm of mine.

~Katy

 

Garden To-Do & Soil Test Results

1-DSC_0453
Current view of the acre garden plot

Well the frogs have emerged in the dugouts and are loud as ever, so despite the snow we got this past weekend, I call Spring!

Since we have approximately one month until planting time, Clay and I are busy with plans and logistics for the gardens. He built me some beautiful beds around the south side of the house/deck and we will be filling the largest one with hugelkultur this weekend. We are getting a load of compost from Uncle Ross sometime (hopefully) soon, and I’ll use that to top dress all of our house beds. The chicken garden is coming alive (even with all of the chicken attempts to thwart it) and my chives, mint and a few garlic survived the winter. I’m anxious to see what else will come up. I will be planting peppers and tomatoes against the house as well as grape vines, roses and peonies against the lattice of the deck, most of which will be a summertime project.

The largest item on our list is the acre garden and we have a lot to do. The plan is to plant the large trees and shrubs of our forest garden, build some swales, plant a traditional row garden with this years veggies, install a few perennial beds and put the rest under cover crops of buckwheat and red clover. In the fall I’d like to build some large scale hugelkultur beds, but we’ll see where we get. Oh yes, and then there is the building of a small greenhouse up by the house… By now you should know we are very optimistic people.

When starting this journey last year, we conducted a soil test. I even had my very own specialist on hand since my husband is an environmental scientist. We also tested for pesticides as our plot used to be commercially farmed and is located next to traditional farmed land. Here are the results:Soil Test Results

Since I’ve never done an actual soil test on a garden before I went to the all knowing Google to figure out what these numbers meant and what I needed to do about it.

  • Organic Matter: 10.7 – Apparently this is ridiculously good. The sources I found said the 4-6% would have been great soil, so we’re sitting pretty on this one.
  • Nitrate: 9 ug/g – Ideally we want this number to be 25-30, but medium lies in the 5-20 range so I guess we’re okay
  • Phosphorus: 24 ug/g – We are in the ideal range of 21-28, hooray!
  • Potassium: 397 ug/g – The highest ideal amount I could find was 120, so I guess this is good? Not sure…
  • Sulfate and Ammonium: I couldn’t find much info on this except that these are secondary nutrients.
  • pH: 5.8 – it seems we are a little on the acidic side of the pH scale but most veggies do well in a range from 5.5-7 so I’m not going to worry about it this year.
1-DSC_0433
After a good old fashioned squeeze test, it seems we have loam (ideal) soil! Not too much clay, not too much sand

Our pesticide test came back negative and we are glad for that. Although it was expensive, I really wanted peace of mind when it came to possible issues. We tested for over 40 types of pesticides and we are free and clear… phew! All in all, I think we are looking pretty good and I don’t plan on adding much to the soil besides compost and organic mulch. The cover crops will provide organic matter and extra nitrogen in the un-attended areas and we will address any issues in the fall.

Today I came home to a big box of goodies I ordered from westcoastseeds.com who specialize in organic, non-gmo and heirloom varieties. It included my seeds, potatoes, hops, cover crop (buckwheat) and asparagus crowns. Oh good golly it’s like Christmas in April! (don’t take that too seriously universe, we don’t need anymore snow I assure you). I also placed my fruit tree/bush/nut/grape order with a nursery in Manitoba who specialize in zone 2-3 plants. I’m SO excited to get it all in to my house, but less excited to get it all in the ground on my tightened schedule. Here is a list of things we need to do before we can plant:

  • Finish the 2015 aspects of the garden design, continue to work on design to finalize
  • Purchase and install 8′ wire elk fence – 3 rolls at 330 feet each
  • Install working gates – tractor gate + walk-in gate
  • Run piping/hose from well to northwest corner of garden site
    • Our plan this year will be to water mostly by hand which isn’t ideal, and as we grow into the full space we’ll need to come up with a better plan. But for the first year, I think we’ll be okay.
  • Till the entire acre with borrowed till from our cousins
  • Find a bunch of compost and wood chips
  • Buy a few bales of old, spent alfalfa for mulch
  • Plant, plant, plant

I am hoping to grow enough to make it to the local Farmer’s Market this year on Saturdays as well, so we’ll work it into the schedule. Ah yes, the farm/full-time work schedule. At this rate I’ll either be invincible by the end of the summer or they’ll find my body face down in the garden dirt with an invoice in one hand and a pitchfork in the other. Let’s hope for the first one shall we?

Any advice from those experienced gardener’s out there?

~Katy

1-DSC_0446
No trip to the garden plot is complete without a visit from these two

 

Work-Life-Farm Balance

1-DSC_0315
Our egg and crocus bounty on Easter Sunday

Oh hello there, long time no see…

Things have exponentially gotten busier around these parts as spring has officially sprung (thank god). I started a job in town 2 weeks ago and we are in the throes of dealing with this new concept we like to call work-life-farm balance. Just when we thought we were tired and had too much on our plate I was hired on a s a business manager for the Cultural Centre (yes!) and I’ve been getting back into the groove a 9-5. I definitely miss my time spent solely on the farm, but am finding I do enjoy meeting new people, taking on new challenges and getting to walk to yoga everyday. Yeehaw.

Within those two weeks, the animals (and the husband) had a tricky time coping with the lesser amount of attention from me and our road washed out. Again. So for the first week of the new gig I had a double vehicle commute – side-by-side to SUV. I made sure to change out of my muck boots and into my ballet flats in my car before I went in, you know, as not to blow my professional office person cover, but my coworkers busted me by the telltale sign of mud on the back of my pants. Apparently you can take the girl off of the farm but you can’t take the farm off of the girl… not even with crappy public washroom soap.

1-IMG_3053
Clay attempting to get our culvert to thaw and drain
1-IMG_3167
My commute

Wyatt is completely healed up as his nickname has changed from Pus Bucket to Scabs. The drains and stitches are out, he’s back to full patrol duty and seems to like all the attention he’s been getting. Not only did the local paper feature his story on the front page and an entire back spread, the local news channel came out to the farm for an interview. He got to show the nice reporter lady his manners, his chickens, his cat, his territory and his red rocket… sigh… I knew it wouldn’t all go to plan. His brother Maynard was so jealous, he willed himself an abscess (seriously, we have NO idea how he got it) and landed himself in the vet and on antibiotics as well. Never a dull moment people, never.a.dull.moment.

1-DSC_0186
Here we see Pus Bucket lounging on his bed… his two larger drains drained all over everything we own for two solid weeks. He managed to pull them both out by himself. Thanks Pus Bucket
1-DSC_0212
Healing up and getting some outside time in the soon to be melted snow
1-DSC_0217
Oh yeah… Maynard looks really sick here…

The chicks are growing fast and will be 6 weeks this Friday. Holy crap. It’s exciting to see their plumage grow in and their colors begin to show. Josephine sleeps with them at night but has left them for dead during the day as the snow is going fast and there is green grass to forage. Oh the life of a Canadian Acres chicken.

1-DSC_0278
Hazel and Mable chilling on the top roost when the big chickens are outside
1-DSC_0282
They get bigger everyday
1-DSC_0289
Philomena getting in some beautiful plumage
1-IMG_3213
The chickens enjoying the sunshine and the green grass

We spent the holiday weekend enjoying the nicer weather and Clay built me a beautiful flower bed along our back porch. The south facing location is ideal and I have big dreams of grapevines and peonies on the horizon. The compost piles are thawing and actually freaking look like compost (hooray!) and I am oh so proud of myself on that front. What a delight to finally see things happening after a long winter. The dogs and I hiked the hills in search of the springtime crocuses and found many popping up in the sunshine. The boys found a few old wolf kill bones to chew on and we were all happy to be in this place.

1-DSC_0302
New garden bed… we plan on putting up some lattice beneath the deck which would be perfect for grapevines
1-DSC_0311
The compost looks like compost!
1-IMG_3258
Look mom, one of those stupid wolves left behind this wonderful bone

Though life may seem over busy and hectic, nature and our land bring us together and remind us that all it takes is love, patience and gratitude to find the balance… and casually ignore the sh*t ton of work to do on the garden this month. Happy April!

~Katy

Wyatt vs the Wolves

*disclaimer: graphic images

Total "Peter and the Wolf" soundtrack moment... I'm expecting Scut Farcus to show up at any moment
A lone wolf caught on our game cam last May

Yesterday morning, one of my biggest farm fears was realized.

I was awoken with a call from the front door, “Katy, get up, something’s happened to Wyatt.”

Clay had gone out to start his truck for work and found Wyatt at the end of the driveway, stumbling and bleeding. Help Dad look on his face. His eyes were glazed over, he was shaking violently, had a large gash on his shoulder and puncture type wound on his back/neck area. I looked him over, noted he wasn’t actively bleeding although there was blood, quickly wrapped him in a towel and my husband rushed him to the vet clinic in town, 20 minutes away. At first we couldn’t figure out what had happened. Was it a neighbor dog fight? (no… Wyatt would have won that). Did he get down to his number one arch nemeses, the horses? Coyotes? What had happened to my old man as he did his morning business? He had only been outside for 15-20 minutes.

After calling the vet clinic to give the heads up, I bundled up, grabbed my .243 and headed out to follow Wyatt’s blood trail to get a better idea on what might have happened. I followed it to the near by woods, lost it and decided to head to the corrals to see if he had taken any paths leading to the horses. Sake, our cat, decided to accompany me on this short walk and I was grateful for it. Something just didn’t feel right.

I received a text from Clay saying that Wyatt was in surgery getting stitched up and the vet stated it was an attack, multiple assailants. In that very moment, I was surrounded by the sound. The undeniable sound of a wolf howl. Multiple wolf howls – two above me and one below. I took one look at Sake and we booked it for home. I texted back with alarm “Could it have been wolves?”

“Definitely coyotes,” was the reply I received. “My Conservation Officer (CO) buddy said that if it was wolves, he wouldn’t have come back.”

After ensuring the chickens were safe and that Maynard was by my side, I heard it again. A lone howl this time, calling, calling. It was coming from our upper field. I sat and listened on the back deck for 5 minutes or so.

I called our CO friend immediately.

Once again, it was unlikely it was a wolf attack because lets face it, what dog makes it out alive. But he did mention it was weird that I thought I was hearing a wolf as he didn’t believe in coincidences. He called his father (a retired CO) to come out and told me he’d be on his way later. At least we could start to piece the puzzle together.

Meanwhile, Clay starts sending photos of Wyatt and his injuries. Something had picked him up by the back of the neck and torn all of the skin away from the muscle…The vet said he was very lucky to be alive. I knew that coyotes aren’t large enough to pick up Wyatt like that, I mean he is a tank. But it couldn’t be wolves. He wouldn’t have gotten away, right?

1-IMG_3066
Jugular puncture wounds, back of neck
1-IMG_3067
He had two drains placed on his upper back, they criss cross one another
1-IMG_3068
The third drain and retreat puncture wounds
1-IMG_3069
His back got the worst of it… good thing he’s pure muscle and super top heavy

Three drains, 10 wounds and 20+ stitches later, Wyatt came home and started to fully come out of the sedation. He was afraid and disoriented, but wagged his tail any chance he could. The retired CO arrived and said he had found two pairs of fresh wolf tracks above the house. He took a look at Wyatt’s wounds, looked at me very seriously and asked where I had lost the blood trail. I walked him out to the spot, and he immediately found what I had missed – a blood covered bush that lead through barbed wire up a path trailed with blood. Not very far from the house at all. He set off and I went inside.

He came back, quickly. It was a wolf attack. He found a fresh kill site not more than 100 yards from our house, at least three different sets of wolf tracks and he had followed their pursuit and attack on Wyatt. How he made it home, alive, we do not know. It kept being repeated – he is very lucky to be alive.

So, we assume Wyatt was on his morning rounds and went to check out the new smells and the raven party, only to find some not very nice creatures on the other side.

The retired CO spent the rest of the day tracking on the property, I ended up seeing one grey wolf cross our upper field, but we didn’t have much luck catching the buggers. Wyatt was in a lot of pain and really freaked out, but was starting to come out of shock. Our CO friend showed up at the house and he and Clay were ready to hunt. Following the blood trail to the kill site is the second eeriest moment of that day for me, the first, y’know, that whole being surrounded by wolves thing. Still sends shivers down my spine.

1-DSC_0089
Wyatt’s journey home
1-DSC_0095
The kill site, a mule deer
1-DSC_0100
Yep, that’s our house from the kill site…

Although they staked out the kill site, no wolves returned. Clay set up the game cam and we got to witness the coyotes and ravens clean up the site. More fresh wolf tracks today to go along with the howling I heard throughout the night, but still no actual sightings close enough for a shot. Wyatt had a terrible night, I think part pain, part trauma, but we got through it. Nothing like sleeping on the floor holding your dogs paw just to let him know you’re there and that he is safe. He’s a hero in my book… thank god he found them first. I can’t imagine if I’d been doing chores and stumbled across them unarmed or if I had to go look for him and found a bigger mess than I was prepared to tangle with…. he came home, he came to warn us. My heart breaks for him, but am I am so so happy that he came home. How? We will never know, but he definitely earned his “bad ass farm dog” award. He didn’t give up, he didn’t submit, he didn’t lay down, he has two bad hips and a bad knee and still ran like hell… He won’t be winning any beauty contests any time soon, but that’s just fine with me. He has also once again lived up to his Wyatt Earp namesake, the baddest doggy in the west. I guess that makes Maynard your huckleberry…

1-DSC_0141
I took Maynard up to the site this morning to take some photos and check the game cam. He smelled out his brothers trail immediately and led me the entire way through it
1-DSC_0140
One of the smaller wolf tracks on site
1-DSC_0136
Nothing left but the carcass and bones after the coyotes and the ravens got to it
1-DSC_0132
It seems so small

Today is a new day. Wyatt is alive and we are on the hunt. For those of you who may feel sorry for the wolves and think it is not right that we kill them, please remember that the safety of myself and my family is at stake. I refuse to walk around my property being afraid of the big bad wolf. I will not constantly look over my shoulder, or worry that one of the dogs, chickens, horses could be killed at any moment because wolves are in our territory. We share this land, but we must stake claim to what is our safety zone. I’ve run across countless kills on my hikes/walks/skis and never once felt in danger as they were not 100 yards away from my house. I have no problem staking claim on our homestead and defending my brave dog, frankly it would be stupid not to. He lived to tell the tale for a reason. The night is dark and full of terrors, but Mama’s got her .243 and she’s not ashamed to use it.

1-DSC_0108
“I’m your huckleberry”
1-DSC_0109
Everything is pretty swollen, but draining well
1-DSC_0112
The criss-crossed drains
1-DSC_0113
Fraken-doggy
1-DSC_0114
It’s going to be a long road ahead…
1-DSC_0119
Happy to be here with Mama… I think he just might make it

Keep you dogs safe and your guns close folks, homesteading is not for the faint of heart.

And wolves… we’re coming for you. I hope Wyatt got a chunk or two for himself.

Now, if I could only get the Peter and the Wolf soundtrack out of my head when I am walking the property, that would be great.

Thanks to all who sent prayers, concerns and well wishes – Wyatt knows he is very loved.

~Katy

 

My Permaculture Garden – Planning an Edible Food Forest in zone 2b-3

1-DSC_0075
Pineapple sage seedlings

Sunshine and mud is upon us and thus brings unrealistic hopes of gardening in the near future, if you live in the North. We have at least one more month of cold temps and snow before we can begin to see the landscape change into spring. And our springs a little muddier and a little chillier than most, earning it the unrivaled title of Break-Up. Like I really need to label my feelings on how I feel about winter right about now…

BUT, spring is coming. And so I must be ready, because in the North, gardening season happens fast, happens dirty and happens to never last.

Since January hit, I’ve been scouring the internet and several books to gather the information I’ll need to start putting our garden into place. Exciting! In a previous post, I discussed my interest for permaculture gardening and how we implemented some practices last summer (read more here). This summer, we plan to take on a larger chunk of our property and start building a food forest, a lush perennial garden as well as a possible annual market garden. I mean, you know, because we don’t have a lot to do around here. In my quest to put as much research together before the soil thaws, it made sense to start piecing together a list of plants that are both favorable to a permaculture garden as well as the garden zone in which we live.

1-IMG_2808
The garden/food forest site

Fort St. John, British Columbia is noted as a garden zone of 2b-3, although it is apparent after much observation we have a pretty great micro climate on our property, especially in our 1 acre garden plot. Most of our 1/4 section is south facing towards the Peace River and our garden plot slopes slightly towards agriculture fields, downwards from a large hill and in between a shelter belt of trees and a dugout. I’ve noted that it warms incredibly fast in the the spring, has good drainage and isn’t terribly affected by our winter winds. We did a soil test last summer that came back great, made some amendments, mostly with old manure soiled hay and left it to it’s own devices. We also tested for pesticides since it is so close to traditionally farmed fields which came back negative (whew). All in all, the plan is to plant with the zone 2b-3 in mind, but experiment and have some fun as we go.

I’ve been making lists and lists. Lists of fruit trees, of bushes, of varieties, of herbs, of nitrogen fixers, of dynamic accumulators… pretty much anything I’ve come across as favorable to our zone. Well ladies and gents, it’s time to put those lists to work and start piecing them together.

Let’s talk about edible forest gardening. I’ve always wanted an orchard and with land comes the opportunity. Though, the more I read up on permaculture practices, the less I wanted a traditional orchard. Enter the edible food forest garden. The principle of a forest garden is to build in layers, 7 layers to be exact, imitating the natural process and growth patterns of a natural forest. If you’ll notice, no one ever has to weed or water a forest because there is a balance. Building a forest garden allows the gardener to use similar patterns while allowing a break from too much weeding and watering. Sounds good, right?

Here’s a handy drawing I made to explain the layers:1-DSC_0076

  1. Canopy – large fruit & nut trees
  2. Low tree/tall shrubs – dwarf fruit trees, tall shrubs
  3. Shrub layer – berries, nut bushes, etc.
  4. Herbaceous layer – comfrey, herbs
  5. Rhizosphere – root vegetables
  6. Soil surface – ground covers
  7. Vertical layer – climbers, vines

When you include each layer surrounding a main large fruit or nut tree, we refer to this as a plant guild. Each plant has a “job” within the guild and an overall purpose to the health of the guild. Jobs include providing nutrients, mulch, pollen, protection, etc. Plus, with each group of plants comes differing root length and spread, so planting in guilds cuts down on competition. Two major types of plants within a guild are described as nitrogen fixers and dynamic accumulators.

Nitrogen is a vital nutrient for plants and plant growth. In traditional farming practices, nitrogen is added through fertilizers. In a permaculture garden, nitrogen is added through plant systems. As a nitrogen fixing plant grows, it creates a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. Excess nitrogen is built up in the plants tissues and when leaves fall, roots die, or gardeners prune back leaves and leave as mulch, the excess nitrogen is released back into the soil. This excess nitrogen is picked up by the other plants in the area and utilized for their own growth.

Dynamic accumulators (DA) involves the idea that certain plants (often deep-rooted ones) will draw up nutrients from the lower layers of the soil, and these nutrients will be deposited in the plants’ leaves. When the leaves fall in autumn and winter and are broken down, those stored nutrients are then incorporated into the upper layers of the soil where other plants will benefit from their decomposition. You can hasten this process by cutting back vigorous growth and leaving the leaves as a green mulch layer.

Pretty cool, huh? Making your own fertilizer with living plants – sounds good to me!

So I’ve started my list. I’ve gathered plants that will survive in our 2b-3 garden zone that I will use to create my plant guilds and it was quite the research project. But I am so happy to finally have them all in one place. Now I can share them with you and hope that other northern gardeners will find it helpful.

PDF found here – Food Forest Plant List

Food Forest Plant List

There you have it… the beginning of something beautiful. Food forests are a labor of love and can take a few years to establish, but I’m up for the challenge. Looking forward to many days spent planning, planting, pruning and providing… with so much to do, it only makes sense to make my plants work too.

Do you have plants with jobs in your garden?

~Katy