19 October 2014

Ashes to ashes

The Emerald Ash Borer beetle is munching its way towards us from southwestern Ontario. On Friday I was talking to an arborist who works to the west of Toronto. He told me that he is spending nearly all his time now cutting down dead ash trees.

Since most of our area of woodland is ash, I spend a lot of time thinking about how this pest is going to impact our landscape when it arrives here. At this time of year, when the ash trees have lost their leaves, I wander through the woods to see what other deciduous trees there are: they're easier to spot when the ash are bare. We have some birch and oak trees, but very few compared to all the ash.

On the bright side, we won't be short of firewood in the future, but I think I'd rather have the living trees.

It has been a spectacular Fall this year. Some years the colours are over in a flash, but this year they seem to have lasted for weeks.

05 October 2014

Changing colours

Autumn brings its usual changes to the scenery: morning mists and gorgeous reds and oranges.

And for us, it generally brings a dearth of eggs in the henhouse, as the chickens take a well-earned rest from laying. I've been getting one, two or zero eggs each day in the last week or two.

Today's egg harvest was two, and it wasn't until I'd got into the kitchen that I noticed one of them was not the usual Buff Orpington palish brown.

The new hens have started laying! Well, one has, anyway. The eggs either side of the bluey-green Ameraucana one are the normal range of colours that we get from the Buffs. In the dimness of the barn the Ameraucana egg looked a lot like the paler Buff eggs.

I'm very pleased that the new hens are beginning to lay. From being a position of scarcity, I suspect that very soon we might be in the position of being over-egged!

19 September 2014

The 200 year present

Today I was introduced to the concept of the '200 year present'. For any individual, this is the span encompassed by the birth of the oldest person they have known and the death of the youngest person they will ever know. It is an idea credited to Quaker sociologist Elise Boulding and there is something about it which immediately struck me as significant.

Coincidentally, today is exactly 100 years since the birth of the oldest person I can claim to have known well, my maternal grandmother, Edna, who was known to her friends as 'Tommy' and who moved in with my family when I was twelve, just after my grandfather died (that's them on the right in a photo taken at my uncle's wedding, when I think Tommy would have been 49, just a bit older than I am now). This anniversary, I judge, places me exactly in the middle of my own 200 year span of presence on this planet.

And it's ironic, because I've spent much of my time in recent months buried in research on the local impact of the First World War: writing blog post after blog post whose titles begin '100 years ago:...'. Those 100 year anniversaries of army enlistments and horrific deaths have become something of an obsession, so perhaps it was not surprising that I remembered this more personally-relevant anniversary today.

Not that I don't think about my grandmother often. I didn't really like her very much (it feels shocking to write that, but it's the truth) and she had a big impact on my life. She lived with us throughout my teenage years and affected our family dynamic in fairly major ways. I generally resented her, and I think the feeling was mutual. Possibly I was more like her than I would have ever admitted at the time, and I think having her in my life was in some ways like having a glimpse into my own future. I'm fairly sure I deliberately made myself less like her (more caring, more compassionate, less selfish) as a consequence of seeing the way she treated other people, and my mother in particular.

I've been thinking about that difficult relationship more often of late, because we're still hoping to bring Mike's mother (another Edna) over to Canada to live with us (she had her medical last weekend, so we're now waiting to hear the result of that). If that plan works, we'll be extending another family-of-four into a family-of-five and I can't help but worry about how that might change things for all of us.

But with a 200-year-perspective view, I think that having her here will bring benefits for all of us, as well as challenges. It will broaden our field of vision and show us our life here through another perspective, as well as remind us all that nothing ever stays the same for very long.

07 September 2014

Apart and together

In quiet moments in the past few weeks I've been shelling my dry bean crop. There's something very satisfying about this job: popping out the beans and watching their respective piles grow. 

I'll be saving some of these to re-sow next year, but there should be a good few meals out of this harvest, too. Clockwise from the top they are Deseronto Potato, Early Mohawk, Jacob's Cattle, Hidatsa Red and Cherokee Trail of Tears.

This week I introduced the new chickens to the old ones. They are now sixteen weeks old and big enough not to be too picked-upon by the Buff Orpingtons.

The new chickens are still sleeping in a different area at night, but during the day they are now free to explore outside and it's great to see them pecking at the grass in the orchard. 

The two flocks are mostly keeping to themselves at the moment, but I imagine that will change as they become more accustomed to each other. Part of my rationale in getting more hens was to improve the proportions of males to females (which was 1:7).

One of the new Welsummers is looking distinctly male, however, so that aspect of my plan hasn't worked as expected! But with the 19 new hens, the ratio is now one male to eleven females so it has improved a little.

22 August 2014

Slim pickings

It's been a weird summer for crops. The tomatoes are limping along, producing modest amounts, but nothing like what we'd get in a regular year. It just hasn't been warm enough.

This year I've been roasting, rather than boiling the tomato crop. It seems less labour intensive. I still have to put the roasted tomatoes through the food mill to turn them into sauce, but this cuts out the food-processor stage and (more importantly) produces a richer-tasting sauce, I think.

The weather seems to have suited the beans this year, though. I think I will get a good crop of dried beans. If I were allowed to grow only one variety, I think I'd go for the Cherokee Trail of Tears black beans - they're so prolific!

My eggplants have been pathetic from the very beginning, even though they're in the greenhouse. But there are flowers coming on them now, so I might get a few before the summer is over, if I'm lucky.

The peppers have been producing well in there, however, and the Golden Marconi ones are just beginning to change colour.

Outside, only the skinny Cayenne peppers look like they'll come to anything this year. These are great for pickling or freezing - wonderful for adding a bit of kick to a dish. It would be hard to choose just one pepper to grow, but I think Cayenne would get my vote.

As for tomatoes, that's really hard to decide. I think Amish Paste would have to get my vote, from a preserving point of view. But if I'm allowed one for fresh eating too, it would have to be Gardener's Delight. Or Black Cherry. No, sorry, it's not possible. Cannot pick just one tomato!

08 August 2014

Flying visit

I took Mike's mum back to England last week and was able to squeeze in a visit to Wisley with my aunt. We had a great day and I feel like I've topped up my annual peering-at-plants requirement. Although the downside to visiting amazing gardens like this is the resulting huge sense of inadequacy I experience when I think about my own!

28 July 2014

Okra in Ontario

The coolish summer we're having has been testing for my okra-growing experiment with the 'Clemson spineless' seeds I received from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.Of the eight or so plants I put outside, only two have survived and this is the healthier-looking one. It's reached the giddy height of four inches: rather shorter than the six or eight feet I'd been reading about!

The two plants I put in the greenhouse are doing slightly better and I've picked a few okra pods from them already. They are still only eighteen inches (50cm) tall, but at least they are showing me how okra is supposed to behave.

The flowers are rather like a morning glory and, like morning glories, they only last for a single day.

 The flowers are self-pollinating - I love the velvety appearance of the stigma.

By the end of the day, the flower has shrivelled and the okra pod is ready to form.

On this plant you can see a flower bud before it opens at the top of the plant, an okra pod just forming on the right and a fully-formed pod at the bottom.

In a hotter summer it might be worth growing these outside, but I think from now on I'll treat them as a greenhouse crop.