30 July 2009

An unwarranted invasion of privacy

I was tidying up the pots in the greenhouse this afternoon. An innocent enough activity, you might think. As I emptied one of the white plastic boxes in there, I was startled to find a mouse running around in the bottom of it. When I realised that I'd disturbed her in the process of giving birth (the baby was still attached!), I was mortified. Though quite why she chose that particular location, I'm not sure. There weren't any nesting materials in there, so perhaps she got trapped?

With the seed trays that had been in the box removed, she managed to jump out, but left the poor baby behind.

I tipped it out onto the greenhouse floor, but don't have a lot of hope that she'll come back for it.

I think she was a deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus). According to Wikipedia they normally have litters of around four young, so I'm hoping that she's got a nest somewhere where she can give birth to the other babies in a more private setting. What with this and the mole nest I disturbed in April, I'm beginning to get a bit nervous about doing any tidying-up in the garden.

28 July 2009

Could it be?

I've been watching other people's reports of tomato harvests with envy and have been grumbling about the way my tomatoes have remained stubbornly green, despite my lavishing them with water, food (lovely worm tea) and a roof over their heads. At last it seems that one of the greenhouse Black Cherry tomatoes has been embarrassed into producing a slight blush. And about time too.

27 July 2009

Is it a bird? Is it a frog?

Some creature was making an extremely peculiar noise up by the pond this morning. Any ideas what it might be?

The Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) flowers are opening up. I really like the delicate basket-work tracery of the green bracts underneath the flower heads.

Summer vegetable risotto

Cooking seems a lot easier when you can wander around the garden, pick what's ready to pick and then turn it into supper. Saturday night's haul included some onions (supposed to be for pickling, but they didn't get that far), carrots, zucchini, beans, spinach and broccoli.

I had some leftover cooked ham and the stock that it was cooked in, so it seemed that a summer vegetable and ham risotto would be a perfect way of using all these things up.

I melted some butter in a pan and gently cooked the chopped onions and some crushed garlic (not in the picture, but also from the garden!) until they were transparent. Then I stirred in the risotto rice and the sliced carrots. Once the rice was coated in the butter I gradually stirred in the stock, a little at a time, and adding the other vegetables at the appropriate moment. The rice takes about 20-25 minutes to cook, which is fine for the carrots and onions, but the other vegetables need less cooking time. I added the beans and broccoli when there were about 10 minutes to go, then the courgette/zucchini slices and the spinach with 5 minutes left.

If you don't eat ham, then you could use a vegetable stock instead and perhaps replace the protein in the ham with some cheese stirred in or sprinkled over at the end of the cooking time. Summer on a plate: delicious!

23 July 2009

That is LOUD!

The cockerel known to us as Cocky* has discovered his voice:

*Well OK, maybe there wasn't a huge amount of originality and creative effort involved when the name was chosen. It was just so exactly the right word for the way he acts. And then it had stuck and it was too late to think of anything better.

And yes, I'm a little embarrassed about it.

21 July 2009

Any day now...

There's a sense of anticipation about the vegetable garden at the moment. Not a huge amount is being harvested: the peas have stopped producing and a lot of the lettuce has gone to seed (there is more growing, but it isn't big enough to harvest yet). Broccoli, carrots and beetroot are the main things that are pickable right now. The warm-weather crops are not quite ready to harvest, but I have a feeling that it won't be long before we are struggling to keep up with them all.

Last night we had half an inch of rain, which was extremely welcome. It's been very dry for nearly two months (there have been some impressive storms just to the south and just to the north, but no rain over us) and recently we've been having to water the whole vegetable garden every evening just to keep the plants alive. The huge water tanks we've installed in the barn and greenhouse over the last two years have made that possible: our water situation in 2007 was so much worse.

The tomato and pepper plants in the greenhouse are producing a lot of fruit, but none of it has ripened yet. These are the appealingly-shaped fruits of the tomato pepper:

I'm also growing cayenne peppers and Corno di Toro Rosso (red bull's horn) peppers. These are almost being swamped by the cucumber plants that are in the same bed:

I'd almost given up on finding any actual cucumbers, despite the rampant growth and the presence of many immature fruit. Then I found this lurking on the floor:

Is there any logic to the way that cucumbers develop their fruit, or is it just random as to which one grows to maturity first? I like the way the cucumber is shaped like a question mark: as though it would like to know the answer to that, too.

In the vegetable garden these crops will soon be ready to harvest:

Fennel and French beans:


Corn (four cobs on this plant - is that a record?!):

17 July 2009

Winged beasts

The area around the pond is alive with dragonflies. This morning's haul:
Ruby meadowhawk (Sympetrum rubicundulum)

Well-camouflaged female Eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis)

And a Twelve-spotted skimmer (Libellula pulchella).

These bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) flowers aren't dragonflies, but they're jolly pretty.

14 July 2009

Where DID you get that hat?

That little tree frog was there again today (charmingly adorned), when I took the children on a milkweed nature trek. There were no caterpillars, but we saw this beautiful Canadian Tiger Swallowtail instead:

12 July 2009

Milkweed menagerie

At the risk of starting to become a milkweed bore, I offer up some further images of the lives that the common milkweed plants are supporting. Of course there are several Monarch caterpillars (two visible in this picture):

But beyond the very noticeable (and presumably, therefore, highly unsavoury) caterpillars are other creatures, too. I loved the brilliant colours of this tiny fly (and have given up trying to identify it!):

There are two patches of milkweed plants in the hayfield, and the flowers of those in the second patch are slightly darker pink than those in the first group I photographed. There was a small yellowish spider lovingly dealing with its ant prey when I first looked at this plant. The spider didn't like the attention and sidled off (as if to dissociate itself from the dead ant) when I tried to snap it.

On another plant in this group was this rather fed-up-looking frog. I think it's a Gray Tree Frog, simply because it looks less like any of the other nine Ontario frogs than the pictures I've seen of that one. But gray (or even grey) isn't a colour I'd use to describe this beastie. Duck egg blue, perhaps?

On the way back from this trip I spotted a Monarch butterfly, at last:

11 July 2009


The male chicks attracted names early on, as they are both easily spotted and their combs are sufficiently different to make distinguishing between them easy. This might be a terrible mistake, as one of them is probably going to end up as a meal. The females are all very alike still, so names for them are slower in coming. There is one whose face is currently darker red than the rest, so she is Rosie for the time being, but I'm fairly sure that the others will soon come to look like her, so that name is unlikely to stick (unless we call them all Rosie, of course).

The chick pictured has a distinctive Mohican/Mohawk feather arrangement on her back, which has been like that for a couple of weeks now. So I think of her as Degonwadonti*, which is the Mohawk name for Molly Brant, who was quite a remarkable woman. She died in Kingston in 1796, just up the coast of Lake Ontario from us.

*I've also seen Koñwatsi-tsiaiéñni as her Mohawk name - but Degonwadonti looks slightly easier to pronounce!

10 July 2009


I've only ever grown maincrop onions from sets before and last year's onion crop was non-existent, thanks to my sets rotting in the soil. This year I grew onions from seed, sowing Early Yellow Globe and Sweet Utah seeds in January indoors. By early April I'd transferred them to the greenhouse:

They went into the soil of the upper vegetable garden (which is drier and warmer than the lower garden where I'd put the sets last year) on April the 14th.

The bed has required a lot of weeding, as onions don't block out much light to suppress weeds, but that would have been the case if I'd grown them from sets, too. I'm really pleased with the way they've come on. I pulled the first onion yesterday and most of these will go into winter storage in the cellar. I hope that it will be a while before I have to buy any in the stores. I'll definitely be growing onions from seed again next year - it wasn't nearly as hard as I'd thought it would be.

08 July 2009

Nursery food (and a glimpse of Scotland)

I wandered up to the hayfield this evening, hoping to get some good cloud photographs. The dark skies weren't quite as impressive as I thought they might be, so I went to have a look at the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flowers, which had been nearly open the last time I looked at them. It is a very distinctive plant and is well-known for its role as a host to the caterpillars of Monarch butterflies.

The leaves contain a poisonous sap, but the flower buds are edible if thoroughly cooked (I haven't tried this, yet). As I looked at the plant I was thinking that I have yet to see any Monarchs this year. Then I realised that there were two Monarch caterpillars on the milkweed that I was photographing, so there must be some around:

The dark clouds might not have been that photogenic, but I did like this white one, which seemed to resemble a map of Scotland. Or the way I draw the map of Scotland, anyway (i.e. a bit vague and woolly around the west coast):

06 July 2009

How does your garden grow?

We measured the area of all the vegetable-growing space yesterday (just the beds, not the paths between them). I've described before how I started growing food in earnest (rather than just growing a few parentally-donated tomato plants in gro-bags, which is what I usually did prior to 2005) in our back-garden in Manchester. By 2005 we were already planning to emigrate, so it wasn't worth trying to get an allotment, although there were some allotment plots within walking distance of our house. To be completely honest, the idea of having such a public space to learn in would have put me off, too - I like to experiment in private!

So, my total growing space for vegetables in 2005 (one raised bed) was 32 square feet (3 m²).

In 2006 we added another bed, bringing the total to 64 square feet (6 m²).

By 2007 we were in Canada. Arriving in late June meant that we had no space or time to grow vegetables, but that summer we did plough up part of the barn yard and create eight vegetable beds which were planted with buckwheat as a green manure. Total growing area: 1,059 square feet (98 m²).

Two more beds were created in the spring of 2008, brining the total to 1,540 square feet (143 m²).

In 2009 we have the three greenhouse beds and one more bed in the upper part of the barnyard, so the grand total now is [fanfare] 2,143 square feet (200 m²).

I don't really plan on expanding the outside vegetable beds any further: keeping on top of the weeding would just be impossible. There might be some more greenhouse beds next year though, so the figure is likely to climb again. It is quite amazing to think that my vegetable garden is now 66 times bigger than it was in 2005. It certainly won't all fit into one photo any more!!

05 July 2009

Musical interlude

Tents, a portable convenience*, wellies and light sabres. Must be summer music festival season! This particular event, Lakestock, is in its third year and is organised by a family who live just a kilometre away from us. A home-grown music festival that we can walk to and that isn't too crowded. My idea of a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. There was a good mixture of original pieces and more familiar songs in a range of different styles (from opera through Show Boat to songs by Blondie, R.E.M. and The Killers). There was also great food and it was another chance to meet up with many of our neighbours.

One set of neighbours that we hadn't met before were a couple who had bought the separate piece of farmland that had been owned by the previous owner of our house. The land is further down our road. They are building an off-grid rammed-earth tyre/tire house there, which makes our green initiatives seem rather tame in comparison!

The journey home was a pleasant evening stroll along the lake. Perfect.

*I couldn't remember if this was provided by 'Bob's Johns' or 'Bill's Johns'. A quick search revealed that companies with both names are in existence. I had an infantile chuckle at the motto of the former (based in Durango, Colorado): "We boldly go where you've gone before".

01 July 2009

Growth spurts

The way things grow at this time of year staggers me. In the greenhouse, the tomatoes looked ridiculous on the 18th of May, when they were dwarfed by the long stakes I had planted them next to.

Now they don't look quite so stupid and I'm thinking that I planted them much too close together!

On the same day in May the chicks looked like this:

Now they're looking a lot more like hens: