13 April 2015

Ice out

'Ice out' is when a lake is clear of ice after the winter. Usually it happens to 'our' lake at around the time of the Spring Equinox, but last year and this year it's been April before all the ice has melted. We had high winds the other night and they must have been responsible for the huge piles of drift-ice that have washed up in places along the edge of the lake. I've never noticed this happening before, but they are really quite something to see!

05 April 2015

Spring progress report

It is beginning to get warm enough for me to get started on the Spring jobs. Looming largest in my thoughts was the need to empty the chicken enclosure of the accumulation of winter litter. But I couldn't do that until the chickens were willing to spend some time outside. They aren't happy about walking in the snow, so I needed most of the snow to be gone before I could contemplate the task.

Here's the orchard on March 26th:

Still fairly snowy: the Buff Orpingtons were willing to brave the conditions, but none of the other breeds fancied leaving the coop.

By yesterday most of the snow had gone and the birds were spending their time outside. Here they are this morning. There was a light scattering of snow overnight, but not enough to bother them.

It took two hours of shovelling to get the barn free of the woodchips and chicken detritus of the winter. And there was a rat's nest. With baby rats in it. I won't say any more about that...

The resulting chicken manure heap is huge! You can see that there's still quite a lot of snow behind it.

There are some signs of life in the greenhouse. These seedlings are coming up in the bed where I sowed peas. They're clearly not peas, but I'm hoping they are something edible, so I'll leave them for now.

It's suddenly a lot easier to walk up past the barns, with the snow going. There is still a lot of ice in places - this patch along the fence line is a good ten inches thick!

I was actually quite grateful for the continued cold weather, as our fridge went wrong on the 25th of March and was out of action for  a week. I put our cool box into service and stationed it on the porch. Fortunately the weather stayed at fridge temperature for the whole week, so we didn't have any problem keeping things cold.

It wasn't the most convenient location for a fridge, but having all the food out on the porch did turn out to be a very effective deterrent against snacking!

19 March 2015

Springing up

The snow is going...so slowly...but it is going.

Outside enough has melted to reveal some bulbs starting to emerge.

 On the living room windowsill I've got a small army of herbs growing. I'm hoping to take these to the Seedy Saturday event in Trenton in a few weeks.

I've dug my way through to the greenhouse from the small barn and have sown peas, parsnips, lettuce, leeks and some onions in one of the beds in there. The water is still frozen, so currently the most effective way of watering the seeds is to dig up more snow from outside and sprinkle it over the bed. Effective but not necessarily easy!

20 February 2015

Regular February service

February seems determined to compensate for a relatively snowless January. It's been cold too, with an average temperature so far of -14°C/7°F (the month usually averages -6°C/21°F here). The temperature hasn't been above freezing since January 24th, and isn't forecast to do so in the next two weeks.

I seem to have spent a lot of time digging out the driveway and my 'eggs' sign: it's a bit of a miracle that the chickens are still laying (some of them have even gone broody in the last month!).

I'm reading Naomi Klein's book about climate change, This Changes Everything at the moment. I'm sure that this cold spell is one of those unexpected side effects of global warming, but right now I'm finding it hard to get upset about the idea of a bit more warmth in my life!

23 January 2015


Last winter was so snowy that the chickens didn't get outside for a solid three months. I'm looking back at last January's posts and remembering how horrendous it was. There is snow on the ground now, but only a few inches and there is even some grass visible at the moment. When it's very cold or windy I don't open up the back of the barn for the chickens, but today is milder and some of the hens ventured out to take the air.

The lake has been looking very pretty, reflecting back some clear blue skies of late.

But it's difficult to walk along our western fenceline at the moment, which is just a solid sheet of ice.

27 December 2014

Ontario feijoada

I love dishes which combine meat and beans: cassoulet, Boston baked beans, any kind of slow-cooked meat and beans. When I read about the Brazilian national dish, feijoada, in Jamie Oliver's new book Comfort Food, I had to try it, particularly as I had some leftover pork belly slices which I didn't use at Christmas and the remains of a smoked pork picnic shoulder joint. Not to mention a load of the black beans I harvested this year! The end result was lovely: garlicky, rich and definitely worthy of the comfort food label. I had to adapt the recipe to suit my available ingredients and I'm noting them here for future reference, as this is a dish I guarantee I'll be making again.

Ingredients (serves 4)

Stage One
2 cups black beans, soaked for at least 5 hours
1 ham bone, stripped of meat
1lb/450g pork belly slices (with rind)
4 cups water

Stage Two
1 onion, diced
2 tsps smoked paprika
9 inch chorizo sausage, sliced into 1-inch lengths
Any leftover ham, sliced into small pieces
5 cloves garlic, crushed
salt & pepper

I used my pressure cooker for the first stage: slice the pork belly pieces into narrow strips and fry them until golden. Add the beans, water and ham bone and cook at high pressure for 15 minutes. (If using a regular pan, cook for an hour, or until the beans are tender.) Then remove the bone and transfer everything else into an ovenproof dish with a lid, with the remaining ingredients. Cook at 300°F/150°C for four hours (or use a slow cooker if you have one). By the end of the cooking time, most of the liquid should have been absorbed or evaporated, leaving a thick, glossy coating on the beans and meat. Serve over brown rice.

20 December 2014

Coup in the coop

After several months when the two Buff Orpington roosters seemed to get along just fine, each with his own little harem of hens, there was a big fight the other week and now the younger of the two is Top Bird. The Welsummer rooster, one of the 'hens' I bought this year, doesn't seem to have been affected by this change in status of the other two.

We had a few days with snow on the ground when the chickens wouldn't go out, so I tried a trick I read somewhere of hanging up a cabbage for them to peck at while they're cooped up indoors. They didn't know what to make of it until I cut a small wedge out. Then they got the idea and they seem to have enjoyed it!

The Ameraucanas are happier about going out in an inch or two of snow than the Orpingtons. It's funny how the one white Ameraucana doesn't look particularly white when you see her against the snow.

The snow has nearly all gone now, so all the chickens have been enjoying being out in the orchard over the past few days.

It's supposed to get quite warm on Christmas Eve (8°C/46°F!), but we might get snow on Christmas Day, as a storm moves through and pulls in colder air from the north. Like the chickens, I will be quite happy watching it from inside.