Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Winter Storm

I know it is only October but our first winter storm is here. We have a thin layer of snow on the yard and roads and the thermometer is reading a cool -1ºC this morning. The sky is overcast and looks like it wants to drop another inch or two of snow sometime this afternoon. Overall, it is a good day to stay inside, clean the house, and maybe bake some fresh bread.

HydroOne, the local electric supplier, chose several years ago to stop trimming trees over and around the power lines. I'm sure some bean counter somewhere decided it would be cheaper to repair the "few" lines that are damaged each year by tree branches than it would be to pro-actively cut the overhanging tree branches away from the lines. Needless to say we lost power for a few hours last night. Considering how busy the service report line was last night, I'm guessing several communities were without power last night.

As I've said before, being without power isn't a problem for us. We have the wood stove for heat and cooking; we have lamps and candles for light; and we have a wind up/solar powered radio for news in a long term outage. We even managed to purchase a small generator to keep the sump pump and freezers going if the power is out for more than a few hours.

However, last night's power outage did help us find some gaps in our preparedness. It turns out we are out of tea lights, which we use in several of our candle lanterns. With cats around the candle lanterns are far safer than open flame candles. We have lost our replacement wicks for the kerosene lamps. In a long term outage they will be providing the majority of our light and the wicks will be used up pretty fast. And, it turns out we need a wind up alarm clock. If the power is out over night the alarm clock will be needed to get PeterC off to work on time.

So our next shopping trip will have to include a few non-food items, but in the long run they will bring security of mind and make our lives just a little more comfortable in an emergency.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Canning Almost Finished

As much as I like to cook and can food I am always glad when it is over. It is a lot of work and it takes time to boil the jars and seal everything nice and tight. This year I actually froze more than I canned. I've frozen Harvard Beets, Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage, and several variety of home made soups.

Today, I canned the Sauerkraut I put on the ferment back in September. I managed to get 13 quarts of delicious home made Sauerkraut put away for the winter ahead. Truthfully, this will last us until next fall when the cabbage comes back on sale. We might eat 3 or 4 quarts a year but if the power is down or we get snowed in this year I'll be very happy to have the extra food on hand. Besides, I've eaten home canned food that was several years old and it was as good as the first day it was canned.

All I have left to can, and maybe freeze since I am running shy on jars and lids, is the pumpkin. We picked them last weekend and they have been sitting out in the sun for the last week. This gives them a chance to finish ripening and the flesh will become sweeter after each successive frost. With all six pumpkins I am guessing I have about 120 lbs to seed, peel, process, and preserve. My favourite way is to cook it all down to a mush with some nice spices. Later I can pull it out and use it for pumpkin soup or pumpkin bread, both yummy winter treats around here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fall is Definitely Here

I woke up this morning and the first thoughts in my sleepy head were "Yep, fall is definitely here." What was it that finally made me declare, what some others will say was obvious weeks ago? I'm fairly stubborn so I require a few hard definitives before I say the seasons have changed.

1) The trees in the yard are almost naked. Three inches of leaves adorned the truck roof this morning, where it was clear last night.

2) We've had a hard frost two days in a row. Even though my Cranberry beans are valiantly blooming again the leaves are frost covered until the sun rises.

3) The cats caught, ate, and promptly threw up the first mouse of the season. It was a young one, which means it wasn't smart enough to stay out of harms way. I have live traps set and we release them a couple of kilometres from here, otherwise they just come back. However, I do not punish the cats for doing what the cats do best.

4) It was chilly in the house this morning. I haven't turned the furnace on yet this year, since electricity is so expensive. The temperature inside the house yesterday was 14ºC and the same this morning. Another couple of days and I will be setting the furnace to come on at 14 degrees and hope that it only operates an hour or so each night.

5) Canadian Tire is putting the Christmas displays out. It isn't Halloween yet but the Christmas decorations are on display.

Soon, I will declare that winter is upon us but I have to wait for my personal indicators first.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wood Smith

It turns out that PeterC has become quite an accomplished wood smith over the last few months. We took the opportunity of a long weekend to finish up the outside of the new windows we installed in the cloakroom. We wanted the outside mouldings to match, as close as possible, the original mouldings still visible on the front of the house. He even made the siding to replace some that had to be removed due to rot.

The mouldings are made of cedar to make them as weather and rot proof as possible under the coats of paint we intend to cover them with. A few measurements, a false start or two while PeterC figured out how to cut the angles, and we have decent looking mouldings around our windows. We had to fill some large gaps with wood filler and caulk around the edges to seal them against the siding. Now all we have to do is prime and paint them, which may have to wait until next year.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sweet Potatoes and Scarlet Creepers

We had a hard frost a couple of days ago so I decided it was time to dig the sweet potatoes. It was a chore since they burrow deep into the soil. I don't have a pitch fork so I had to dig them by hand. Luckily the soil was mostly loose. In fact the soil is in better condition than it has been since we started the garden. All the compost and rotating of crops must finally be paying off.

We ended up with two huge potatoes, a few regular sized potatoes, and a whole lot of fingerlings. Here is the first layer of the curing box where you can see one big tuber and a couple of the fingerlings. The big tuber will feed a family of four alone. The fingerlings are about the size of my pinky finger and only a little longer. The larger potatoes will make nice casseroles and the finglerlings will make great additions to any soup or vegetable roast.

We also picked the last of the scarlet creepers. We thought we had picked a good number of them last weekend but we picked at least triple what we picked last weekend. Once these are all shelled I'll probably end up with 10 cups or more of beans. Looks like I'll be canning a few beans one day this weekend.

I do believe that scarlet creeper beans are one of the prettiest of the beans. The cranberry beans are pretty but there is something about the purple markings of the scarlet creepers that I find just lovely.

The only thing we have left in the garden now is the pumpkins and a few wild tomatoes that may or may not be edible. The last few I picked at been nibbled on by something.The pumpkins are starting to turn nicely, and they are larger than previous years. If we are really lucky we'll be able to harvest them for Halloween which is only three weeks away.

We've got six large pumpkins that will be cleaned and cooked down to make a puree. I froze last years crops but I think I might have to can this years crops since there is so much of it. If We do have enough to can I'll puree some and leave some cubed so they can be used for something other than pies and soups, though I do love a good pumpkin soup.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Winter Prediction

We've all heard wives tales about the bigger a squirrels tail the colder the winter; the higher the wasps nests the more snow, etc. Most people don't hold any store to these tales but I figure there must be some truth in them somewhere so every year I watch the animals and try to divine the winter forecast based on their size, actions, colour, and anything else I can think of that may indicate something to someone.

As usual I've been watching the birds and squirrels for the last few weeks. The animals are getting fatter than normal this year. We've had more visitors to the feeders than normal, and they've been coming earlier than normal too. For example the goldfinches started arriving in July and August. They don't normally show up in mass until the end of August.

All the squirrels, sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches, and blue jays have put a lot of weight on this year and seem voracious. I filled the feeders Saturday and by Monday everyone of them was empty. This is unusual in that the back two feeders usually last at least 4 days in high summer which is our busiest feeder time. The goldfinches not only emptied their nyger seed feeder, which is almost never empty, but they stripped the seeds from the cone flowers and black-eyed-susans. Very unusual behaviour.

So based on my observations I believe we are in for a long, cold winter.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Spider Farming

We don't use pesticides except for BTK and Neem Oil and so we have a huge number of bugs. With a huge bug population we have also developed a flourishing spider population. I've joked with the occasional visitors that I've taken up Spider Farming, they are so plentiful and so very large. If you are an arachniphobe it is best to avoid Sparrow Haven.

Over the last few weeks I've noticed a very sharp decline in the spider population and assumed that they had set their egg sacs and died off, like Charlotte in the children's story Charlotte's Web. Today I found that the Sparrows we've named our place after have had a hand in the declining spider population and I actively realized that our no pesticide policy has been a large benefit to the entire food chain here.

The bugs feed the birds, spiders, and toads as well as performing the duty of pollinating the plants, when they aren't eating them to the twig. The spiders feed the birds when it is time to fatten up for winter. The toads feed the raccoons and skunks, as do a number of grubs and tree fruits. The squirrels also benefit from the tree fruits, apples and chestnuts mostly. The birds and squirrels feed the occasional hawk, owl, and weasel and they spread the seeds from various plants they nibble at.

What do I get out of this whole passion play of nature? I get pleasure in the sight and sound of all our animal visitors. I benefit from the wholesome fruits of the garden on a physical level but the pleasure I derive from watching the antics of the animals fills a place in my psyche with love and peace and the knowledge that all things are interconnected. A wonderful bit of knowledge that so many in our hurried world have lost contact with.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Forces

The Forces
Calls in the Distance
Shadows moving in
Peeps and Squeaks get closer
The Forces are Gathering

The Feeders are Filling
Not Fast Enough
Winged Bombers Swooping Down
The Forces have Gathered

The Feeders are Empty
Sleepy Chirps in the Verge
Feathered Bellies Full
The Forces are Sated.