2017… And so it begins.

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Reminiscing about greener days on the farm

I almost just shot a coyote!

My god… how life has changed. But if a creepers gonna creep on my flock, I’m going to have to take them out. Just call me Laura Ingalls effing Wilder. No, don’t do that. I don’t think she’d approve. Plus, I don’t know if she’d actually shoot a coyote, but it’s 2017 baby, and this farm girl’s got a gun!

Hey all! It’s me, y’know that sweet sweet blogger you’ve missed hearing from? I can officially say that I completely failed all of you in the year of 2016. Like, seriously. I had three blog posts. Three. Ugh. The worst. But I’m back! And better than ever! Well, I don’t know about the better part, but definitely back. More prepared maybe. After having a kid, I seem to have snacks on me at all times so that is an improvement.

In the past, I’ve started the year out with a recap of our past years goals, how far we’ve come and what life is looking like for the New Year. I did a great recap of 2016 already, and for the most part it covered our goals and accomplishments. You can catch up here if you missed it. You will see in our current list of goals and aspirations, we seem to have lost our minds and decided that we can, and should do all of the things.

Who needs sleep anyway.

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“We do Mom. We need sleep. The baby is mobile and he is everywhere!”

I’m headed back to work a real job in March so things should get so busy that we’ll be taken down a few notches, but for now, here’s our list:

  • Install deck railing and child gate – we attempted to get this done before winter hit in 2016, but it just didn’t happen. But we need to get on it because we have the busiest little boy on our hands and he is just raring to get out there.  So definitely #1 on the list.
  • Landscape and clean up the farm for the family reunion – Every three years, my husband’s family has a family reunion, which is awesome! We were, um, voluntold a few years back that our farm was picked to host the family reunion and we were very excited… when it seemed so far away. Now, it’s here! In July.  And we have some things to do. The theme is Pioneer Days though and I am already planning a pack horse race so… it will be a good time regardless if our farm is presentable!

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    Luckily, I know a decent landscaper ❤

  • Honeybees – this is happening this year. Even if we just have to get some bees and learn the hard way. It’s happening.
  • Horses – Currently we have 20 horses on the property: 12 mares, 4 geldings, 3 colts and 1 stud (Thor is back!!!) We’ve been keeping everyone fed and the colts are finally weaned. They are hanging out with our stud horse Thor and learning that humans aren’t so scary… which means we’re actually managing our wild herd! My father-in-law is brining hay across the river to the remaining wild ones and we plan on bringing more across this spring. We still don’t have an exact count of how many total there are, so we’ll just have to keep catching them.
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    So. Fuzzy.

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    This little one is very friendly and just wants to be loved by me

  • Garden – Oh, the project that just keeps on giving…
    • Organic Certification: Our commitment to producing crops organically is going to be official! Clay and I decided to go pesticide free on our commercially farmed 88 acres of farmland when we moved onto the property, so the first summer would have been 2014. We need a minimum of three consecutive years of no pesticide use to qualify and plan on having certification by 2018. We are initially going to certify our crops and have plans to move into certifying our poultry, eggs, honey and any other products we may venture into on the farm. So. Exciting. We will continue to practice organic methods of fertilizing (compost, worm tea, cover crops) and pest control, as well as continue to strive for a permaculture balance on the property as a whole. Organic certification will mean that we are going against the grain of the farmer’s and fields around us to provide a healthy ecosystem for our family, our critters and the wildlife that share this land. It’s been a dream of mine for a very long time and I’m beyond thrilled to be learning and living the process.

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      The grass and weeds had a very healthy year in 2016. I promise you there is food in there somewhere!

    • CSA Farm Boxes: A long-term goal of the farm is to become a community supported agriculture (CSA) operation. Basically this means that people in our community will invest in shares of our farm and crops at the beginning of the season to help us buy the supplies we need and then, in return, will receive a share of our harvest throughout the harvest season. Eating local at it’s finest! So this year I want to commit to selling 5 boxes per week for 10-12 weeks… gotta start somewhere!
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      2016 dinner harvest

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      I am planning on getting some of my preserves tested this year so I can offer them through my farm boxes at the end of the season

    • Set-up small greenhouse, prep, dress and mulch 100′ beds, install drip lines, manage pathways, work on grass issue, plant 5 fruit trees (pear, plum, apricot, honey crisp apple x2), plot 2 fruit tree guilds in the food forest, fix raspberry bed and prep remaining 100′ beds on west side of acre garden. All while keeping a small child from burning and overheating in the open field…there’s going to be a lot of dirt eating this summer. Yup.
  • Chickens – my small little flock needs some filling out and my egg basket needs more colour (did you know that egg colour is addicting?). As of now I have 1 rooster and 9 laying hens, a mixture of green and pink eggs mostly with one blue one thrown in for good measure. I received an incubator for Christmas this year (thanks Mom and Dad!) and have my first set of eggs incubating as we speak! If all goes well and I don’t absolutely kill all of them, then I will be hatching many many more. Eggs on order include: Black Copper Marans (dark brown egg), Ameraucana’s (blue egg), Silkies (small white egg), Blue Isbars (green egg), Cream Legbar (blue egg), Icelandic (tinted white egg), Lavender Orpington (light brown egg), Wheaten Marans (dark brown egg), Olive Eggers (olive green egg) and silver and blue laced wyandotte (light brown egg). I think I can officially claim that I’m a chicken farmer…. or a crazy chicken lady? Same difference in my book 🙂 We are also embarking on the world of turkey ownership this year… it could go either way. They could be super awesome, sweet and fun to have on the farm or I could have to face one down and hit it with a shovel like that one time I was 12 at my friends house. Could go either way…

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    Current egg basket. Just set 24 of my gals eggs in the incubator and expect a hatch on February 28

  • Cabin – there is much to do in our 16×20 cabin on the property. After meeting with the bank regarding the build of our dream forever house it’s been determined that we must live in the cabin for up to 12 months during the actual building process. That means me, my husband, our toddler and 2 large dogs will be moving in and living that REAL homesteader life. So yes, much to be done in the cabin. But stoked to be planning our dream forever house!

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    Work in progress…

I suppose that sums it all up. Seems doable, and if not, definitely a lesson in patience. I must say, I can’t remember a time when I have ever felt more fulfilled with my daily life or with where I am. It truly feels as if we are in the exact right place at the exact right time. And with the state of the world today, it feels good to be connected to our land, our family, our community and our happiness. 2017 will be a year to learn, grow, be kind and over all else – love.

What’s on your plate for 2017?

~Katy

2016 Goals

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Our backyard

We’re baaaaaaaaack!

So apparently we’ve been through some sort of Space-time Continuum here on the farm. Like seriously, what day is it?

It seems like only yesterday I was 8 months pregnant and reminiscing to the slow pace our lives once were in 2015. Fast-forward 5 months and holy.crap. Things have gotten very interesting at Canadian Acres.

After such a long absence, I started to get subtle (and some not-so-subtle) reminders that people missed the blog. But as so much has happened in these last few months, I honestly didn’t really know where to begin. So I’ve decided to start where I meant to last January, which is to review the goals we set for 2016, plus give you a short review on how our lives have been over the past few months. Sound good? Good, because I don’t have any time to argue with you. Shit’s gotten real, and the one thing I do not have time for is extra time. Also, some days I have trouble finding time to get pants on. But that’s besides the point.

When Clay and I sat down together to map out our 2016 goals on a quiet, non-hectic day in December, we wanted to keep things short and simple since we knew our lives would certainly change once our new son entered the picture. You know, make sure we didn’t over extend our expectations because we couldn’t possibly get it all done with a baby. Hahahahahahaha. Anyway, our list promptly grew and grew and although we’ve almost murdered each other a few times, we’re actually figuring out how to make it all work. Mostly. We’ve definitely had to readjust our level of expectations, especially the day-to-day. And we’ve definitely had a steep learning curve. And we’ve definitely felt absolutely nutso and insane and cried for an hour over an egg we dropped on the way back from the chicken coop while carrying the baby. Well maybe that last one was just me. But mostly, mostly, we’re very much making it work 🙂

So…. here’s the list and a review on what’s been accomplished thus far:

  • Birth and bring home a happy and healthy baby boy:
    • Success!! On February 24, 2016 our son Bowman Tuchodi Peck was born. I went into the hospital on my birthday, the 23rd, for a routine check-up and never left. He was two weeks early and delivered by C-section as I had pre-eclampsia (which is *SPOILER* how Sybil dies in Downton Abbey which didn’t freak me out at all!!!) We were the parents with the car-seat still in the box at the hospital. It was scary and real and crazy and amazing. And then we came home and never slept again. But I’m happy to report that he is the greatest baby on the planet and by far the most handsome human being I have ever laid my eyes on. We just took him on his first camping/Hot Springs adventure and it was awesome.

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      My heart

  • Wild Horses: capture and bring at least one wild horse from across the river to the house (I literally wrote that down on our list… boy was I naive)
    • So, funny story. On February 21, my father-in-law went across the river and through the woods to feed our wild horses. He found a few lingering in our corrals set-up and decided to catch them. So three days before our son was born, 10 wild horses showed up at the house. This is my life people. I was obviously thrilled and very very slow at getting down to see them. We were officially in the business of horses. The corrals held up, though we added one extra rail around the top and after that, more horses just kept showing up. We’ve had anywhere between 10-35 horses on the property since, had one major branding, one horse cutting, four babies born and too many stud fights to count. I will write more in depth on this in a later blog. I guess you could call this goal accomplished.
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      First day on the farm

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      First baby born this spring

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      Timber’s brand TT

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      First branding on the farm – 24 horses

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      Thor, our wedding present stud finally, FINALLY got some time with the ladies… they were impressed I think. He chased them around the fields for days like this and we laughed and laughed

  • Finish hanging the gates in the corrals: Done
  • Chickens: Keep them happy and add a few to the flock
    • For the most part we’ve kept this up. We’ve lost a few to predators this year, but they are a free-range flock so I suppose that’s bound to happen. There has been some talk of perhaps getting a Livestock Guardian Dog in the future (and goats!!) so we will have to see how that turns out. But the chickens live great lives and always keep us entertained.
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      New baby on the farm

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      Clay built me double doors in the coop which I love! I also set some Welsummer eggs (that I did not have luck with) but the ladies kept hatching their own so we had baby chicks this spring

  • Finish fire-pit area:
    • This was a two-year project for us as we collected all of the sandstone by hand off of the property. We have some pretty amazing date nights around here. Clay spent a good portion of a week getting everything measured out, some weed barrier laid down and the stone all placed in sand. It turned out spectacularly. I spent most of this time trying to figure out how to do farm chores with a 2 month old.
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      Working on the fire pit

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      Ta-da! 

  • Cabin: Clean-up for summer guests, install septic tank
    • The cabin is nice and clean for guests and now sleeps six. We have a propane stove and fridge and a large bear rug covering one wall. The septic tank remains on the to-do list for this summer.
  • Garden:
    • Get whatever we can planted with a newborn
      • So far we’ve planted flowers in all of the house beds, a small kitchen garden in the hugelkultur bed Clay built for me last summer, 100-ft of potatoes, 150-ft of onions, 36 asparagus crowns, 75 strawberry roots. beer hops and numerous amounts of veggies in containers on the porch. I still have some planting to do, but I call all of that a win.
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        Clay and our friend Liz prepping the garden

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        My wonderful helper planting asapragus

    • Kill as much grass as possible
      • Last year we really struggled with the amount of grass that came up in the garden. This year we are focusing on killing the grass bastards with lots of black plastic, sheet mulching and wood chips. The struggle continues.
    • Focus on one guild of the food forest at a time
      • This years goal is to plant one large guild under one fruit tree of the food forest and see how that goes. I have plants and plans, but we’ll see how time factors in over the summer.
  • Honey Bees:
    • I have always fancied myself a bee charmer (I’ve never been stung) and it’s been a dream of mine to be an apiarist some day, even if it just means I can say that word more often. This year, we received a beehive as a gift and we will be taking a bee course as soon as the weather cooperates. We were scheduled for May 28th, but then it snowed so… welcome to the North.

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      My legit bee keeping set-up

  • Install clothesline: fingers crossed for this summer.
  • Continue landscaping: y’know, in our spare time.
  • Install deck railing: since we will soon have a mobile baby and our house is less than baby-proofed.

Whelp, I think that’s it. See, were are totally sane and within reasonable expectations… The real test has been how to keep the baby safe, warm and alive during all of these things and so far, so good. Sleep is overrated (NOT) and we’ve only had one “oops-we-fell-asleep-and-left-the-chicken-door-open-so-a-fox-massacred-a-few-in-the-night” incidents.

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Oops

We left the dog’s 2016 goals to them this year, which basically consists of not getting attacked by wolves. Once again, so far, so good.

~Katy

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Practicing our tummy time!

 

A farmer’s life for me…

2015 is officially half over and I must say, we do have much to show for it. The weather has been sunny and HOT here in Northern BC and although it’s nice to see the sun, this Northern girl has a love-hate relationship with 85 degrees (Fahrenheit that is). But it has made for some memorable days and my tomatoes are loving it!

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Our garden

That’s right folks, I have tomatoes planted in the ground and growing. I know, I know, I never thought I’d get there but after a lot of freaking work and a little bit of luck (that goes by the name of Laura) we successfully built, planted, mulched and irrigated about 1/2 an acre or our first ever Canadian Acres garden. HOORAY!! Though I will say that it would never have been possible without the help of my husband and my dear friend Laura, who most awesomely decided to make the trek from Alaska and spend her vacation doing manual labor. How great is that!After a bit of a, ahem, delay, Laura showed up on the last Sunday in May.

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Friends definitely let friends do manual labor

Needless to say, I wasn’t the only one excited to see her.

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Maynard LOVES him some Laura, although he was wondering where Betsy and Mila were the whole time….

She came bearing work gloves and a cooler full of Alaska made beer (BEST.FRIEND.EVER) and we spent the evening plotting our next week’s work and exploring the farm a bit. I had drawn out a somewhat legit schematic of  the start of the food forest and the beds I wanted to put in and it seemed impossible to get all that work done in one week. Well, as you may already know, impossible is our middle name – Canadian Impossible Work Load Acres. That’s us!

First things first – borrow a hand rototiller and rototill the area in need of planting. Laura was on the job and as I left early the next morning for my day job, I felt both hopeful and terribly bad for leaving my friend to do my farm job. The day was sunny, the ground was wet and she got the workout of a lifetime. And did an amazing job. Day 1 down.

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Just ready to be planted

Next up was plotting and staging the food forest and digging a ton of holes. Turns out, hole digging is not my forte so I was glad Laura was such a bad ass at it. I made up for it later, but man was I glad for her help. The cat and dogs were very good supervisors. Wyatt took his job so seriously that week he rarely left the side-by-side. He would refuse to get out of it, reminding us that we were slacker’s when we took a break. That’s Old Man Wyatt for you… well, at least when he wasn’t sleeping on the job/hatchet.

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Yeah… I’m going to need you to come in tomorrow and if you can come in on Sunday too, that’d be great…

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Supervising is hard work!

We planted 12 fruit trees and 25 fruit/nut bushes and canes. Things started to come together.

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My very first fruit tree guild! Apple tree with strawberries planted in the water berm, hyssop ring and sorrel… Much more things to come but at this point, I just needed to get it in the ground! Work in progress.

Day 3 Laura spent the morning staking out our 100′ x 4′ rows with stakes and string, preparing us to dig, dig, dig as I wanted to create raised beds. In the North it’s good practice as to help dry them out in our wet springs and warm them up for earlier planting. The plan is to eventually be a no-till garden so this will also come in handy when we are hand manipulating our beds. Laura and I each took a side of the first row and started digging and piling up the dirt. Our backs were aching, our hands were dirty and our lives would never be the same!

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First row staked out and hand dug

Long story short – this next photo:

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Much better

After feeling immensely proud, we immediately rented a mini excavator after that first row. There was no possible way we a) wanted to hand dig 20 more 100′ rows and b) would possibly have time for it. I mean, we had lots of Alaska beer to drink. So I spent the $200, Clay picked up the machine in the morning and we spent that day piling rows. This was my redemption as apparently I’m quite talented in the excavator department.

We did it! We had our rows measured, staked and piled. Now we needed to rake and smooth and we’d be ready to plant! And then we’d actually have to plant, and water, and mulch and thin, and WEED and water and trellis and… Ah yes, the joys of gardening.

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I! I have made garden!

On the last few days of Laura’s trip we got down to business. We planted six of the rows and kept the newly planted food forest alive. The days were hot and we both covered in dirt, but we felt like real farmer’s and the sense of accomplishment was astounding. There is nothing quite like the feeling of planting and preparing to grow your own food. The dream was coming true.

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My thermometer and rain gauge… last few days this baby has topped out at 105 degrees in my mini little micro climate.

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The corn was the first thing to go in… it was desperate to spread it’s roots

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100′ of field tomatoes in the ground. Feeling mad accomplished at this point

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Where’s Wyatt… Oh yeah, supervising

Now, don’t worry everybody. I know what you’re thinking – but Katy, with all of that work how did you possibly have any time for fun? Remember who you’re talking to… there is always fun to be had at Canadian Acres.

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It’s a side-by-side-wine-animal party! Wyatt seems miffed that Sake is in his spot

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We took a canoe trip on the Peace River

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Wild onions in bloom

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Wyatt’s not a swimmer so when we had to ford this back channel, he was less than thrilled with Mom

The day after Laura left for my homeland, I spent the Sunday planting the rest of the garden,  getting 5 more rows done. Over the next few weeks, Clay and I installed soaker hoses and sprinklers on a timer as to minimize the amount of after-full-time-job chores in the garden.

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All planted and slowly but surely getting mulched with straw, trellised and irrigated

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My handy man

The garden is 3 weeks old and already I am reminded the gardening teaches patience, guidance and sore knees. The weeds are ever growing and I am entrenched in a grass battle I like to refer to as: I fought the lawn and the lawn won. But all in all, it’s amazing to witness our little seeds and plants start to thrive and spend my mornings and evenings surrounded by the sounds of the country… and Wyatt’s snoring from the side-by-side.1-IMG_4338

Yo ho ho… a farmer’s life for me.

How did your garden grow this June?

~Katy

 

 

Garden Days are Coming…

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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!!!

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Posts lined out for pounding

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We have a very serious post pounder

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And a very high tech fence stretcher

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Unrolling the wire

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Clay built us a table screen for our topsoil

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It takes some time, but the plants will be thankful

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We have a large supply of sandstone on the property

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An hour spent piling rocks

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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…

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Sake hard at work

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The start of our fence and pathway to the fire pit

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Clay found this in the woods somewhere and brought it home for me for an archway. I absolutely love it 🙂

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These stones will be buried into the grass eventually

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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.

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Easter Egger and Sizzle eggs

 

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Little Miss Franny

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

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Blarg!

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

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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

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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.
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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

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

 

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

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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.

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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

 

 

 

Homesteading Goals: 2015

1-IMG_2292After writing the summary post of our first year on the farm I am amazed at how much we accomplished… and also a little overwhelmed because I mean, how in the heck do we top that?! But with the New Year brings a refreshed sense of over achieving and I think we’re up to the challenge.

Earlier this week, Clay and I sat down to sketch out our farm goals for the year and my oh my, how do we still have so much to do? Ah yes, it’s called homesteading and there is a reason that not everyone else we know is doing it. Starting from scratch takes time, patience and a crap load of work. Also, mistakes. You have to be willing to make mistakes and not kill each other over it. So far, nobody has died (save a few critters here and there). Well, we’re pretty good at making mistakes so might as well continue to do what we’re good at!

Here is a breakdown of our 2015 homestead goals:

  • The Garden:
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    Maynard in the garden site last summer

    • Triaged from last years list my major focus this year will be implementing my garden. I have big plans, big plans I tells ya… to the point of maybe too much but I am committed to taking it one step at a time and starting with a well thought out, drawn out plan. The hard part for us is starting small, so we will be practicing that.
      • Design, design, design… I am designing my garden based on permaculture principles that incorporate many different ideals on how to best work with nature to accomplish our goals. The back 1/2 acre will focus on an integrated food forest design and the front part will consist of hugelkultur beds, suntraps, keyhole beds, mandala beds, microclimates and herb spirals.
        • Books I am currently reading or have read for research are: Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture, The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips, Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway and Integrated Forest Gardening by Wayne Weiseman (just to name a few).
      • We have to build an 8 foot elk fence around the acre section. For a while I figured we didn’t need it and all would be fine, but this winter has proven me to be a liar.

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        Thor stands down two bull elk directly next to my garden site

      • Our water system will be a major project as an acre is a lot of ground to cover. Whilst I’ll be designing the garden with plenty of water saving techniques (swales, hugelkultur and mulch) we will still need a reliable source of water. The garden plot is currently located between two existing dugouts so we will need to figure out a way to best use these resources. And also will need to get ducks, obviously…
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        Dugout located on the right side of the garden site… perfect for ducks, right?

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        An elusive Peace River water hippo and some sort of creepy water goblin enjoying the dugout on a hot day

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        The second dugout is located to the left of the garden site in the section of trees

      • Then it will be time to dig and dig and dig and move and lift and haul and plant and water and plant and water and…. spend so much quality outdoor time with nature my soul will fill to the brim.
  • Building our horse corrals:
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    Corral site

    • We will continue on our lovely log peeling journey to finish up the rails we need to start construction on our corrals. The land will hopefully start to turn into pasture as we finish the last 150-200 rails. Then it’s time to put them up!

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      Clay peeling logs with two very hard working supervisors

    • Once the corrals are finished, the goal is to load up the 50-60 wild horses from across the river, transport them 3 hours to the farm and let them get used to the idea of being contained. We’ll host a big old party to entice people to come help us with the cutting, branding and breaking and will hope that all goes well and Wyatt doesn’t get killed immediately by a wild horse… some will be sold, some will be kept and the mares will be transported back across the river with Thor as their new stud… I hope he’s up for the challenge!
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      Our Fjord mix stud Thor in the front

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      The wild ones last summer

  • Install my clothesline, keep muddy dogs and loose chickens away from it
  • Install gutters on house and add a few rain barrels
  • Landscaping:
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    The fire pit area in need of some finishing touches

    • Finish fire pit area
    • Lattice the bottom of the deck
    • Chicken yard and area around well
    • Re-seed patches in lawn
  • Chickens:
    • I want to add some Ameraucanas and Blue Copper Marans to the flock
    • Going through our first winter with the coop has pointed out some flaws with the interior design so we’ll be working on remedying some of these issues

So there you have it… doesn’t seem so bad…. right? Oh who am I kidding, it looks really bad, but in a good way. There is a reason we don’t have TV.

I’ll be looking for full-time work and have many personal goals in mind this year as well, so it all could go either way. But this is the path we’ve chosen and we enjoy the good life so here’s hoping we don’t collapse in a heap of exhaustion, or even worse, end up with goats 🙂

Ever optimistic and always on our toes. Cheers to the new year!

~Katy