30 December 2008

Winter harvest

A few mild days have melted the snow (much as it did this time last year) and made it possible to get a fork into the ground. Made it possible to see the ground, in fact. The surface of the soil did freeze again last night, but not so much that it stopped me digging up the last of the leeks, a few carrots and some parsnips this morning.

27 December 2008

Retrospective, 2008

Time for a bit of a backward glance before falling headlong into plans for 2009.

2008 was our first full year in Canada and there's been quite a lot of progress to report. On the self-sufficiency front we had the solar hot-water and geothermal systems installed and our bank of solar panels wired up to generate electricity, starting on 29 October (830 kilowatts so far). The latter two systems require a bit more work to make them function perfectly (the geothermal develops a fault when the outside temperature drops below -15°C and the panels aren't at their full capacity yet, but we'll get there...).

The kitchen was stripped back to the wood framing and then re-fitted and all the old alumin(i)um wiring in the house has been stripped out. The latter took so long that the electricians began to feel like they were part of our family.

In May we got the apple, pear, plum, cherry and apricot trees into the ground, creating the orchard. It'll be a few years before we get decent quantities of fruit from the trees, but they all seem to have established themselves successfully.

Much work went on in the vegetable garden, including the construction of a 'tyre garden' for rhubarb and asparagus. The eight beds that we created for vegetables in 2007 became ten, mainly due to over-enthusiastic sowing of brassicas. Amazing quantities of produce were harvested over the year. This despite some notable failures: the onions were washed away, the fennel and one of the rhubarb plants rotted after the unusually heavy July rains and the waterlogging which followed them. This also severely disabled the chillies, peppers, aubergines and paste tomatoes. I got a few cauliflowers, but overall those suffered from a lack of water in June, I think. Maybe in 2009 the weather will be more evenly balanced between rain and sun. No, I don't think so, either. With any luck, our attempts at improving the drainage of the area will help a bit.

My pleasure at the complete absence of slugs and snails in the garden was slightly tempered by my introduction to the tomato hornworm, a truly fearsome beast. We also have a small (in stature and in number) rabbit population which nibbled through most of my sweetcorn plants before they had a chance to reach maturity.

Building the greenhouse was perhaps the biggest (in all senses of the word) achievement of the year and I am thoroughly excited at the prospect of using it to extend our growing season in 2009.

I see that I've taken 4,368 photographs this year (not including the ones I've deleted...). Nearly 12 every day, on average! Thank goodness for digital cameras - can you imagine how much that would have cost in film and development costs?

I'm conscious that this blog was started as a record of an emigration experience, but has turned into more of a gardening/cooking/self-sufficiency log. Eighteen months into our new life, perhaps I should be saying more about how the immigration has gone.

I can honestly say that my overwhelming feeling about our move is that I have come home.

Yes, I miss certain things about my life in the UK: particular people; ancient monuments and gardens to visit; and certain food items. People are fairly mobile and are able to visit, but I have to get my fill of the other things through books, TV programmes, DVDs (I'm watching The Buildings that Shaped Britain on BBC Canada and The Victorian Kitchen Garden on DVD at the moment) and on my intermittent trips back to the UK.

These are minor things that come nowhere near to outweighing the benefits of the move. This is where I belong. This is where I will set down my roots.

25 December 2008

A small Christmas miracle

I'd resigned myself to not having sprouts with Christmas dinner, but yesterday's rain and the high overnight winds melted and scoured away enough snow to expose my sprout plants this morning. The harvest was small, but supremely satisfying. To round things off to perfection, lake-effect snow (all the way from Lake Huron's Georgian Bay) was falling all morning.

Here's (part of) me modelling one of my presents from Mike:

He bought the 'large' size (for which he has not entirely been forgiven), but I think I approve of the sentiment...

Merry Christmas!

24 December 2008


There are some Brussels sprouts on the plants out in the vegetable garden which I had been planning to harvest for Christmas dinner, but the plants themselves are visible only as small mounds in the snow this morning, so I think I'll give sprouts a miss this year. I've still got potatoes and parsnips in the house that we grew this summer, so at least some of our produce will end up on the table tomorrow.

Perhaps you'd think I'd seen enough snowflakes this Christmas, but I thought I'd bring a few indoors by icing the cake with some, this year.

It's actually raining right now, but there's so much snow on the ground that I don't think there's any chance of it not being a white Christmas!

21 December 2008

Bleak midwinter

I was going to post about the cooking I was doing this morning - but then I read Amy Williams's entry for today over at her Garden of Eatin' blog and I lost my appetite for it. We hear stories of the credit crunch on the news all the time and here is evidence of its effects on one of the families who are feeling the full force of the downturn. And yet Amy is still managing to keep posting recipes and find ways of being pro-active about the situation, in spite of it all. Good for you Amy, and I really hope it all works out.

19 December 2008

Snowy not-a-snow day

I was fairly sure that it would be a 'snow day' for the kids today - high winds and a day of snow had been forecast. But I was wrong - the buses were running as normal. It seems extraordinarily difficult to predict whether they will run or not - I think the bus board takes pleasure in being fairly random in its decisions.

By the time the kids came home there was a lot of snow around - being blown all over the place. There's more snow forecast for Sunday and for Christmas Eve, so it looks like it will be a white Christmas again. I was supposed to pick up the bird today (finally found a supplier of fresh, free-range turkeys, yay!), but decided that it would be prudent to wait until tomorrow. I hope we'll get all the food shopping done then, before retreating inside for the rest of the season.

15 December 2008

After the rain, the sun...

At the end of last week the weather dropped very cold. This picture shows the dog next to the frozen surface of the stream that runs down from the pond.

Just under his chest you can see a gash in the ice. I've been experimenting with lowering the camera into these gashes to try and capture a fish's-eye-view of the stream underneath the ice:

Today the weather warmed up considerably, with rain which melted all the snow and much of the ice. The lake which the stream feeds was already frozen this time last year, but isn't this time round. Here's the view of the stream this evening:

The rain cleared away as the sun set, leaving a lovely sky.
It's dropping cold again now and it look like there'll be more snow before Christmas. Although the Weather Network woman warned that the "models were not in agreeance" last night, so we'll have to wait and see...

13 December 2008

It's pants!

"...not trousers, Mummy, that's soooo English!"

So I was scolded yesterday, by Child #2. Suddenly I was on the defensive, in a conversation that had started with me demanding to know exactly why he had come home from school still wearing the ripped trousers/pants I'd asked him to change in the morning.

Intellectually I know that trousers=pants, as petrol=gas, jubilee clips=hose clips and skirting board=base board. But there's a linguistic problem with using the word pants, as it still means 'underwear' to me and has an associated taboo around it.

Then of course there's its relatively recent emergence in British English as a mild swear word (e.g. "That film was absolute pants!"). The Oxford English Dictionary dates this usage to the early 1990s (it seems to be generally blamed on Radio 1 DJs). I think I first came across this use of the word when I started working in Manchester in 2001.

The first sentence of this post illustrates another fundamental linguistic issue for British English speakers in North America. I think of myself as a 'Mum', but everyone else is a 'Mom'. We actually managed to find a birthday card for Mike's mum with the word 'Mum' on it yesterday, but it was the only one in a shop full of Moms.

Perhaps as part of my re-education/re-programming, Child #2 bought me a Christmas present of a bracelet last year:

I don't think he noticed that the beads had been threaded wrongly, so that whichever way you look at it, it spells 'WOM'.

12 December 2008

Moon shots

I read on the BBC website about the moon being at its closest to the earth today, so thought I should make the effort to try and take some pictures of it, since the skies were clear this evening.

The time and date.com site gave me the information I needed about when and where the moon would rise, so I got up to the hayfield just before it was due to appear. At first I thought it was going to be hidden, as it was cloaked in a line of cloud:

But it gradually emerged:

I didn't have a tripod with me, so these were just me trying to hold the camera as steady as possible, and using the 'twilight' setting.

I was out for about 45 minutes in all, which was quite long enough in the sub-zero temperatures.

09 December 2008

Grey, grey, grey

The weather turned mild and wet today, slowly melting the snow around the farm. The strips of snow on the roof of the grain bin next to the big barn seemed reluctant to fall.

Yesterday's icicles have been replaced by running water.

08 December 2008

Nicely icy

It's been very cold here over the last 24 hours: down to -18°C and no higher than -8°C. There was snow on Saturday night; enough to let the kids go tobogganing for the first time this winter. But by Sunday afternoon they decided it was too cold to stay outside. There was quite a breeze, which made it feel more like -24. Today was as cold but less windy, so it felt more pleasant (as long as you stayed in the sun, anyway).

There were a few icicles hanging from our water-collecting gutters on the big barn:

The stream had several layers of ice over the top of it.

This tree looks as though someone in charge of a line-painting vehicle had got a bit carried away:

The old tree-roots that form much of our western boundary look gorgeous with the snow on them. Well, I think they look lovely anyway, but the snow really enhances their contours and cragginess.

04 December 2008

Bird life and death (or maybe not)

This skein of Canada Geese treated me to a noisy fly-past this morning, but Tuesday's bird encounter was a bit more disturbing. The dog found this Ruffed Grouse by the side of the small barn. I got to the bird before he did it any damage and picked it up to put it out of his reach. I had thought it was dead, but when I picked it up it seemed to be vibrating with life, so perhaps it had just knocked itself out by flying into one of the barn windows.

I hope it woke up before the local fox found it. Part of me feels that if I were being truly self-sufficient I should have wrung the bird's neck and turned it into supper in true Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall style. But I'm just not ruthless enough. And it wasn't big enough to feed four of us, anyway...