31 May 2010


I disturbed two garter snakes in the greenhouse last night. This one was in the middle of digesting something - the arrow is pointing to a distinct bulge in its midriff (well, OK, if I had to draw an arrow maybe it's not very distinct in the photo, but it was quite clear as it wriggled around, trying to avoid me!). I'm hoping this is another ally in my war against the rodent population.

29 May 2010


I was given a box-full of young Jerusalem artichoke plants a couple of weeks ago and planted them on the day I received them. Since then, they've been looking progressively sick, with only one of them retaining its original set of leaves. Here's a typical example of the others:

It's been very hot and dry here, so I've been watering them regularly, but was beginning to think it was a waste of time. This morning, though, I noticed some of the stems sprouting new growth:

Not all of them, but a fair proportion, are showing similar signs of life.

In other tuber news, the greenhouse-sown potatoes are flowering (and beginning to shade out other plants), so I lifted one of those this morning and got a pound and a half off it: our first potatoes of the season. I've learnt that it's best not to sow any outside until early May, so the outdoor ones are going to be a few weeks behind these. Here's how they look right now:

28 May 2010

Rice pudding for summer

With the hens back laying again and the temperatures rising, the recipe for Gelato di Riso sounded perfect. I adapted it to speed the process up (the original - David Lebovitz's Rice Gelato in The Perfect Scoop - involved making the rice pudding in the oven) and to conserve the eggs a bit. I generally replace the egg yolks in his recipes with whole eggs - assuming that five yolks is the same as three whole eggs. I usually have to strain the custard to take out any small strands of cooked egg-white (although you can't in this recipe) and it probably makes the ice-cream taste slightly more 'eggy' than with just yolks - but that doesn't seem to bother anyone here. I don't want to be left with loads of egg whites to use up!


½ cup (100g) Arborio rice
4 cups (1 litre) whole milk
¾ cup (150g) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, beaten
Freshly grated nutmeg

Cook the rice and the sugar in 3 cups (750ml) of milk on the stove-top, for about 20 minutes or until the rice is soft. Tip the mixture into the beaten eggs then return to the heat, stirring, until it is thick and creamy. Stir in the remaining cup of milk (the original recipe calls for cream or half-and-half - but whole milk works fine), the vanilla extract and the nutmeg. (I forgot the nutmeg, but I think it would make this even better.) Allow to cool, then freeze in an ice-cream maker.

It's lovely on its own, but would probably go even better with some bottled or stewed fruit.

Only disconnect

I'm hestitating about writing this post because a) I worry that I will upset a lot of people I like and b) I'm not sure it really belongs on this blog. But I'm feeling strongly about it and in need of unburdening myself. Is this a 'being over 40' thing, do you think? This urge to complain? Anyway, on to my point...

When I was in England in April I noticed the 'smartphone stoop' a lot. Standing on platforms, waiting for trains, nearly half of the other people waiting with me would be standing with their head and shoulders hunched over, staring at their phones, in an alternate reality to the one we were all sharing. It made me uncomfortable, in a way I'm struggling to articulate to myself. Perhaps I was just worried that they were doing some serious damage to their neck and shoulder muscles.

One night, I had dinner with three friends, all of whom checked their phones at various times during the course of the meal, usually without any comment or explanation. To them, this was perfectly acceptable behaviour. And I found myself uncomfortable, again.

I do spend a lot of time (too much time) online, staring at a screen, for both work and pleasure. The insidious thing about the smartphones is the apparent inability of many of their owners to ever be offline. Even when ostensibly involved in other activities.

Does this matter? If everyone's doing this, isn't it absolutely fine? Perhaps it is and I'm just turning into an old curmudgeon who's technologically dropping behind the times. Maybe nobody else finds the Royal Horticultural Society's iPhone app disturbing. From the blurb:

...it gives you the chance to access horticultural advice from the UK’s leading gardening organisation while you are out and about in your garden with your iPhone.

When I read this I could feel my mind rearing up in rebellion. I value my time in the garden as a complete break from the outside world. No phones, no computers, just me and the land. Maybe I will make terrible mistakes, gardening without the instant help of the RHS to hand, but that's a risk I'm prepared to take.

I hadn't realised that there was a word for this kind of activity.* But Marieke Guy's post on 'unitasking' yesterday has taught me otherwise. I agree wholeheartedly with the benefits listed there of this uninterrupted kind of work (although I'm not so sure about the word itself!).

Oh dear, that's ironic. Half-way through that last sentence I was disturbed by a high-pitched, insistent beeping. The sun had come out and the temperature sensor in the greenhouse was warning me that the temperature in there had hit 40°C. I have just had to dash outside to open up the side walls and cool things down in there. It seems that I'm more likely to have my Internet use interrupted by my garden than the other way around!

I do think it's important to disconnect some of the time. It is good for your mental and physical health and doesn't do your social relationships any harm, either. ;-)

*Apart from 'gardening', that is...

24 May 2010


I've featured these poppies before, but make no apology for showing them off again.

The other photo from this morning is of a completely different subject. There were four of these turkey vultures on the barn roof just now. Not the prettiest of creatures, but they are performing a useful function in clearing up the remains of the rats!

23 May 2010

Greenhouse peas

I don't really think of peas as a greenhouse crop. Last year I started the peas off in guttering/eavestrough in there, but then planted them out in the garden. This year I've had mixed success, with most of the Lincoln peas I sowed in the greenhouse being eaten. I started a third batch of those indoors and they're now in the garden, but are only a few inches high. The sugar snap peas, on the other hand, were ignored by the rodents (why?) and have romped away to the point where they're now ready to pick.

This picture of the plants was taken a week ago and they're even bigger now:

This morning I took nearly a pound of peas off them:

I've never frozen this type of pea before, but at this rate of production I think I'm going to have to!

21 May 2010

Not for the squeamish

My mental soundtrack this week has been either UB40's 'Rat in mi kitchen' or the Boomtown Rats' 'Rat-trap'. When I walked into the chickens' section of the barn on Tuesday afternoon to find three rats helping themselves to the hens' food I realised that the time had come to do something about the unwelcome extra guests at their table. Egg production had been dropping recently: either because the hens were unhappy with their uninvited visitors or (possibly) because the rats had been stealing the eggs.

The dog had found a nest of baby rats in the barn on Sunday, but he was going to need some help to deal with the adults. We paid a visit to a local farm supply store on Tuesday and invested in two heavy-duty rat traps. Within twenty four hours we'd caught three rats. The tally so far this week  is seven adult rats, five babies and one mouse. One of the adults was actually caught by the dog (not bad, considering he's not a ratting breed), but the traps are proving to be very efficient at rapidly despatching the creatures. We didn't want to use poison, in case the dog decides to bite into a dead or dying rat (and from a general reluctance to put poison of any kind into the environment).

My biggest challenge came yesterday, when I was on my own and responsible for disposing of a dead rat by myself for the first time. The last occasion when I was knowingly anywhere near one was when we did a rat dissection one at school in the 1980s. That memory actually helped a bit, as I steeled myself to extract the rat from the trap.

I was going to put a picture of a dead rat here, but decided that it might be stretching the forbearance of my readers. The good news is that the chickens seem to be happier and are back to laying at their previous rate.

20 May 2010

Waiting in line... again

It's been a while since we last had dealings with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, but now we're back playing the waiting game again, this time for Mike's mum. At current rates of progress, it will be around four years from now before this latest application is processed and she will be able to come out and live here with us permanently.

It is frustrating. The kids love having their Nana here and we're all the family she has. If things had worked out differently, we would have all applied to emigrate together and wouldn't have had to leave her on her own in England. As it is, parents and grandparents have low priority for the immigration service and we just have to be patient. But when a person is nearer four score years than three score and ten (I don't think she'll mind me saying that!!), every year counts.

17 May 2010

Setting up shop

This weekend's project was to put up a sign advertising our excess vegetable plants. I was thinking of something smallish. Mike had (as usual: cf. the greenhouse) other ideas. I'm quite pleased with the end result, even if it is a bit enormous. I don't think it would win any prizes for sign-writing, but it fits in well with our home-produced ethos, so I don't really care!

My 'shop' is the verandah at the front of the house. And the virtual shop window is at GreenHill Greens.

09 May 2010

Mother's Day

Yesterday I set up my stall in the library in Deseronto again for the annual Sidewalk Sale. If the weather had been better, I would have been outside and there would have been lots of customers. As it was, it was cold, windy and wet and, consequently, very quiet indeed. I didn't manage to sell as many seedlings as I did last year. But it was only two fewer, so not terribly bad. One thing I changed this year was the range of tomatoes: there had been one would-be customer last year who had wanted beefsteak tomatoes, which I didn't have. This year, I grew Marmande tomatoes and the same man came back and bought 12 of them. Which shows that it pays to listen to your customers, I suppose!

Child1 came with me and was a great help in setting up and taking down the stall. During the (many) quiet spells of our stay our location next to one of the public access computers turned out to be ideal for her. I sat and read one of the library books - so it was ideal for me, too!

Today is Mother's Day and it is the first time that we've actually had one of our mothers here in Canada for the day itself. We put a bit of an effort into setting the table for lunch for once: the lilacs are in full bloom already, which provided an easy bit of floral colour (flower-arranging not being one of my strengths), as well as being a reminder of the mother who was missing.

I always feel ambivalent about Mother's Day: I know it's a fairly ancient idea, compared to Father's Day and Grandparents' Day, but even when my own mother was alive I thought it was a celebration designed only to provoke guilt and spending (and sadness, if you'd like to be a mother but can't be).

However, my cynical old iceberg of a soul is capable of being partially melted when I'm presented with something like this:

Although (if I'm completely honest) it may have been the correct placement of the apostrophe that caused me the greatest delight. ;-)

03 May 2010

A political rant

What? Politics? That's not what you expect from this blog, really, is it? Well I'm not ranting about politics exactly - more about the process that enables politics to happen.

There's a general election going on in the UK this week and, in theory, I have a say in who gets to run the country. Well, the person who will represent the constituency of Wythenshawe and Sale East, where we used to live, anyway.

Or I would have, if the voting papers had got to me on time. They arrived today, four days before the election. The chances of them getting back to Trafford Borough Council by Thursday seem negligible.

I've just come back from our local post office, where I asked the manager, Betty, how much it would cost to ensure that my vote reaches Manchester by Thursday. She laughed in a somewhat sardonic manner and looked it up. "Eighty-one dollars," was her reply. EIGHTY-ONE dollars!!! That's over fifty of your British pounds.

According to the Voter Power Index, my vote is worth a measly 0.038 of a whole vote (as Wythenshawe and Sale East is a very safe Labour seat). But even if we'd used to live in Bangor, Wales, where voters are the most powerful (each vote the equivalent of 1.308 votes), I don't think it would be worth forking out $81 to make sure mine counted.

I had a card in the post last week which told me that the postal votes would be sent out on Monday 26 April and giving me a number to ring if I hadn't received it by Friday. As post usually takes a week to get here, I was not surprised when Friday came and I had no voting papers. So I rang the number.

"You're not on my list," I was told, when I finally got through to a human being who was able to help. I gave him my voter number. "Oh, that's a Trafford number!" he said. "You'll have to phone Trafford Borough Council."
"Will that do any good?" I asked. "Is there anything that they will be able to do for me if my vote doesn't arrive in time?"
"No," he admitted.
Wonderful. So I've been given the wrong number to call for help, I've been sent voting papers which arrived too late for me to be able to use and even if they had arrived in time, my vote would have been fairly meaningless anyway.

I've been following this election more closely than usual, perhaps because I still don't have a vote in Canada, so this is my one opportunity to engage in the electoral process. I think there might be an element of nostalgia involved, too. Perhaps other ex-pats have similar feelings.

So I've sent my vote by regular mail ($1.70) - not expecting it to arrive in time (though there is a very slim chance that it might). If enough votes arrive late from overseas voters, perhaps the electoral organisers will realise that by sending the papers out so close to the polling date, they are effectively disenfranchising thousands of ex-pat voters. Or maybe that was their plan all along...

02 May 2010

Labour days

My first full weekend at home since the beginning of April, so it has been a mad rush to catch up with all the work that needed doing in the garden and barnyard. Mike has been supplementing the lower vegetable garden with additional soil and now has tilled all that into the beds so that they're ready for planting. This means that the beds are slightly higher than they've been in the past, so I hope we'll avoid the flooding issues we had at the end of July 2008.

I extracted the first batch of chicken manure compost from the rotating composter. That process (which I started on 11 March) seems to have worked very well - the compost looks great. I've added that to the beds that will hold the potatoes and have started another batch with a fresh load of chicken litter (the temperature of that hit 59°C/138°F this afternoon, so it's cooking away nicely!).

We've planted the sprouting Russet Burbank potatoes that were left over from last year's harvest and all the tomatoes and pepper plants have now been transferred to their own pots. There are around 250 tomato plants - most of which I'm hoping to sell. It's been great having Mike's mum here to help - an extra pair of hands makes a lot of difference at this time of year. On Friday afternoon we got all of the onions and leeks into one of the long beds in the upper vegetable garden, while the brassicas are gradually being put out into one of the other ones. I did the red cabbages just now - I thought I'd sown fewer this year, but there still seem to be rather a lot of them!

There was a tree giveaway at Picton this morning, so we collected three sugar maples and three highbush cranberry shrubs. Which also needed to be planted out today. The soil in the front garden was rock hard, as there's been so little rain of late, so poor Mike had to take the tiller attachment off the tractor and replace it with the back hoe (which he only took off last week) in order to get the trees in the ground. I'm not sure that I'm very popular with him at the moment...

The tulips are just beginning to fade, but they've been looking lovely:

01 May 2010

Black fly blues

Even the black flies are two weeks ahead of last year. I had an impressive reaction last May to a black fly bite:

Yesterday, they started biting again. I wasn't expecting them to be active just yet, so hadn't put on any insect repellent. Every one of my limbs was attacked, but the bites aren't as swollen and painful as last year's, so perhaps I'm developing a bit of resistance to the blighters. There is also a line of three bites along the lower half of my neck. Not the most attractive of looks.

The really annoying thing (although looking like I've got a load of lovebites on my neck is pretty annoying) is that Mike was working just ten feet away from me (we were planting out the leeks and onions) and didn't get bitten once. He's proposing taking me with him everywhere in the next two or three weeks as some sort of human sacrificial anode.