Wednesday 18 May 2016

Everything has been crazy busy

  • Started Atkins
  • Gained a D&D player
  • Hosted my birthday party
  • Got married to Hugslut
  • Hosted wedding reception where Bard gave us the gift of music
  • Saw Captain America: Civil War in theatre with my new wife
  • Hosted Mothers Day dinner with both our moms at our place
  • Weeded and mulched the entire 15X20 Community Garden Plot(post/pics to follow)

Saturday 7 May 2016

The Maple Syrup Story

This is an old post from an old blog but it's important to me so I want it here.

When I was young, probably less than 10 years old, I learned that maple syrup came from maple trees. I was told the sap was just basically watery maple syrup and it was boiled to get rid of the water and make it thick. I had already learned that some berries(wild raspberries) were good to eat and others were to be avoided. I had learned that certain plants like mint and horsetail could be brought home to make tea. I was excited to learn of a new nature-food. With this idea in mind one fine spring morning, I went out to experiment.

I picked a young leaf off the first maple I found and watched the white sap well up at the break. I was expecting a clear liquid so I became extra cautious. Remembering the awful bitterness of the white sap from dandelions I sniffed the sap to see if I could smell any trace of the delicious maple syrup scent... nothing. It just smelled like a leaf. Very carefully I touched the sap with a finger to pick up a tiny bit, then smeared it on my hand in the thinnest layer I could. Slowly, carefully, I stuck out my tongue and gently licked the edge of the smear.  
BLEEHK!  Nasty and bitter, just like the dandelion. I tossed down the leaf and spit the nasty taste out of my mouth. I wasn't discouraged though because I knew that some parts of a plant could be tasty when the others were gross. I just had to find where the good sap was and I'd be up to my ears in all the sweets I could handle.  Peeling small twigs produced the same white sap, I wasn't about to taste it. 

A vague memory of sap taps came to mind and I scoured the area for something sharp to dig into the bark with. A short search produced a pointy flat rock. I used it as a drill to make a small hole at waist level on the main trunk. It took time but I was young and I had all day. Soon I had a small hole about an inch across and half as deep. Staring at the hole I waited for something to happen, I knew I had got past the bark and into the actual wood, and I was starting to wonder if I needed a special tool to get all the way to the core when I spotted a liquid starting to well on the edges of the hole.

Eagerly, I scooped some of the sawdust ridden sap and popped it in my mouth... Big mistake. After that round of spitting I felt bad for damaging the tree that was obviously not going to produce what I was looking for and covered the hole with some leaf bits, sticking them to the sap in an effort to bandage it and prevent bugs or infections getting in.

Disappointed I returned home without my prize. Later when I found out that only certain types of maples are used for syrup I understood what happened and realized there was no way I could tell the types apart with accuracy and gave up the search. Much later in life I learned that taping is done in the middle of winter and even sugar maples have gross sap once the leaves come in.  Things like this help me remember learning is a life long process.

Monday 8 February 2016

Plotting About My Plot

I've mailed in the paperwork so my little garden plot is officially mine for all of 2016.
I also wound up sending the seed order by snail-mail because their website was borked.

The weather has been really weird for February, hovering just above and just under freezing.

I'm really kind of worried this means March, April, and May will be blizzard city. I'm a bit less worried that it means we'll have a summer drought, but only because that's more easily adjusted for.

Sunday 7 February 2016

Interview With a Future Farmer

This is an old post from an old blog but I like it so I want it here. (updated contact info)


My friend Adrienne agreed to ask me some questions so I could sort out my thoughts on the whole farm idea in a way that isn't just an info dump.

Thanks for talking to me about your plans I've also been interested in the farm life. How long have you been planning this, and what sort of time-line are you looking at?

I've been planning this for my whole adult life but most of the time I've been struggling to make ends meet and for a few years I was supporting a partner who was using me for my meagre paycheck. He's been out of my life since 2011 and it's taking a while to get back on my feet. I now have a wonderful S.O. named Megan and I started dating my O.S.O. Eric this past autumn. Eric also has a dream of a farm; it's one of the things that drew me to him.

I'm now starting to get super focused and I was trying to figure out why I was content to putter along last year and not work towards my dream. I think it was because I figured Megan wasn't coming with me. I was thinking she'd be with her current job for many more years and also that she would not choose to leave London because she's lived here for so long. She has however become so fed up with her boss and the Ontario winters that she's considering applying at businesses in BC, right near where I want to farm so my fears were unfounded.

Whether Megan goes to BC this year, or stays in London Ontario with me, I'm going to move this spring to somewhere inexpensive, work on saving up a down payment, and work on becoming as healthy as possible. I'm going to need to be fit financially and physically to pull this off. I can have my debts paid off by Spring 2015 and a down payment ready by Spring 2016. From Spring to Fall 2016 I'll find my land and save for the move.

Mom's said she and my little sister might be interested in moving to BC with me, and I'm hoping Eric feels ready by that point because it would be really hard to do everything myself (that and there would be way too much food). Megan might live in the city and visit the farm on the weekend, but she said she's not wholly opposed to living on the farm. It's just one of those things that will have to be decided later.

I'll have to have a "proper" full time job for a few years to get the farm going. Even at min. wage that should be enough to pay the mortgage and property taxes, and after that it may be sufficient to have a small amount of income from farm sources (sales of soap, cheese, milk, eggs, etc) and the odd job.

I think that it is a great plan. I also love the idea of having a dairy farm with the prospect of eggs. I think that is the most lucrative idea. Have you done any farming before?

I have had some minor practise with the care of farm animals and a ton of research since. My goal is to have a piece of land that provides all the necessities for the household (minus ungrowables like rice, salt, and chocolate) and is self sustaining(no outside seeds or fertilisers) plus a small income for land taxes, clothes, and ungrowables. The goal is an extended household (perhaps multi-home) lifestyle that allows community, peace and space/time for personal endeavours. With home and food secure, people have freedom to explore their true interests and I'm excited to see what brings people to life.

Sounds like a hippy commune know but it's not free love and getting wasted I'm looking for. I want community and security and tangible results after a days labour.

You're looking for real peace. That amazing! Are you looking to build your own homes as well?

I had thought about it but that involves even MORE time before actually setting in. I might be interested in a chunk of land with a less than perfect old house with the idea of building a better house later, straw-bale construction has come a long way and I adore the idea of in floor passive heating, but starting with no house is much less appealing because it means living in a trailer til the house is built and trailers cost as much as houses sometimes.

I would like to keep my modern conveniences like washing machine and internet but some of them (like hot water or heating) might be done a different way to be more efficient and less dependent on outside resources. I'm highly interested in the German ceramic stoves and in-floor geothermal options for heating.

I'd like to be on the city water for the convenience and peace of mind but I'd also like a well on the property as a "just-in-case" if (like Walkerton) the city water's no good for a while.

I'd also like to be on the main electric grid but with solar panels, a battery bank, and a Net-Meter so our over-flow can pay for any extra juice we might use on cloudy days and the battery bank means the freezer will not defrost just because someone hit a power station.

So lets say every goes smoothly. How long til you expect the farm to be self-sufficient?

If everything goes smoothly? Hmm... well if I could get one other wage earner partnering with me on this project and adding a portion of their wages as capital to the project, we could be completely set up by 2020. If it's just me and possibly another person who can help with the work but not the money, all the important things like a roof and food would be taken care of, but the stuff that makes it truly self-sufficient (solar panels, aquaponics, etc) may take an extra 5-10 years. I have some friends that may be interested in joining the project but it will just be a matter of time to see if there's 3 people or 9 to start, and 5 or 25 by 2020.

I've found that increasing the number of people on the farm makes the calculations for food and time easier. It takes just as long to feed two chickens as it does to feed twenty, and a cow or even a mini-cow makes WAY too much milk for one person. So if it's just me or just two of us, it's going to be harder and longer to actually get everything done. There's a reason for the saying "many hands make light work".

Wait, Mini-Cow? What kind of exotic animals are you planning on keeping on this farm?

A mini-cow is a special type of breed that's 1/2 the size of a normal cow. The main reasons I'm thinking mini is because cows are HUGE and they produce way more milk than can be reasonably consumed by less than 6 people. At 22 litres a day per cow, even if you make all the "extra" into cheese, butter, and yogurt... you're going to have a lot of spoilage. Getting mini-cows means we can have a few at a time so they're less stressed and less stress equals healthier animals.

Other than the size of the cows I don't think you'd find anything else too exotic. I plan to have chickens for eggs and meat, maybe some ducks for their meat, cows for milk and meat, rabbits for meat and fur, a horse or two to help with the heavy stuff and to provide transportation, a new pig each year to turn food scraps into bacon, cats to catch the rodents that are bound to show up because there's grains, bees in the fields for honey and pollination, and hopefully some fish.

So do the mini-cows come in all the usual breeds? and if so, what breeds would you have?  

Yes they do and I was thinking meat breeds because they give milk too, just not as much. We probably won't need a milk breed because a full sized jersey will give 22L of milk PER DAY, that likely means a mini would produce 10-11L per day! I can't see needing that much milk and if need increases, so can the size of the herd. I need to look up the stats on meat cow milk production because those numbers aren't cemented in my brain. The other option is to breed a dairy cow(for increased milk production) with a meat cow(for fast & furious body weight gain) and wind up with a cross-breed in the freezer.

Don't the different breeds eat different foods?  

Not really, it's mostly genetics. In the industrial farms they do feed the beef cows a high protein diet to increase the production numbers and they feed the dairy cows something else to increase milk production but I don't see that as desirable. Think of human body builders. They eat a TON of high protein foods to help them bulk up, but this isn't necessary and it's debatable if it's healthy. I'd rather have healthy animals than risk their health for the chance to get another pound or ten of beef when they die. Cows are built to eat grasses, leafy greens, and some grain. That's what mine are going to get.

Okay, so you're definitely NOT a vegetarian. Do you think you can handle raising something from a baby just to kill it?

I don't see that being a problem. My animals are going to have a nice, comfortable life and a quick torture-free death. That's a lot better than any factory-farm that serves the grocery stores can claim and I've been eating that meat all my life. I'd be a hypocrite if I could only eat animals someone else killed. That being said, I don't think I'll be doing the butchering of the larger animals for several years. The rabbits and birds I can do with a good knife, but a whole cow(even a mini-cow) is over 400lbs! Until I learn how and get the correct equipment, that's just a bunch of accidents waiting to happen.

You mentioned fish but you're going to be in BC where fresh fish are abundant. Isn't stocking a pond more trouble than it's worth?

I was thinking more along the lines of an aquaponics system in a greenhouse. We may choose to buy fish at the port but I want to have the option of using our own. Not only that but their waste water will be perfect to nourish the greenhouse plants and the duckweed used to feed the fish and birds.

The circle of life. I can see you've done your research.

Yeah, like I said, I've been planning this my whole adult life. I have lapsed into periods of "I'm never gonna get there so why bother" but they haven't lasted more than a few months total.

That whole plan just sounds amazing. How can people follow this story? 

I'll be blogging about this [here].

Well, thanks again for talking to me about your plans and good luck.

Thanks for helping me sort out my thoughts. This was fun.

Saturday 6 February 2016

Left Work at Tooth-hurty and Didn't Come Back for a Week.

On Jan. 25th I had to leave work early due to a toothache in my gigantic cavity. The doc at the urgent care clinic agreed that it was infected but refused to Rx antibiotics because "you need to see a dentist". Arg. So I made an appointment with the emergency clinic at the dental college and the earliest they could get me in was Wednesday.

Monday night and Tuesday night as well as all day Tuesday I was hurting so badly I couldn't really sleep more than 2 hours at a time even taking max dosages of tylenol and advil. I couldn't even play Minecraft, all I could do was doze in and out in front of the TV.

I went in Wednesday so the dentist prodded and poked and x-rayed... then froze my face and dug out the food particle that was probably fuelling the whole infection as well as giving the whole area a thorough cleaning. The tooth is half gone and they kept suggesting a root canal/cap but I couldn't possibly take even more time off work for the 3-4 visits it would take to get that done. Especially since a year or two might be all it takes to loosen that cap. Unfortunately the folks that do root canals and extractions aren't in on Wednesday so I had to book for Thursday. Thankfully after the ridiculous amount of cleaning, just some advil is enough to keep it from hurting and I actually got some sleep that night.

My poofy jaw Wed night. Made my eye poofy too. Not sure why.
So Thursday came, extraction went smoothly, and the dentist that was supervising said that I wouldn't need antibiotics because the infection would leave with the tooth and they'd be sure to clean the area very well. Sounds good...... except it didn't happen like that and even after the swelling went down days later I still had a sore hard lump in the area. It didn't hurt nearly as bad as Tuesday but I still needed to take pills regularly and that didn't seem right.

It was Sunday morning so I called the after hours pager on the paperwork, no call back by dinner so I called again... still no call back before bed so I called the last resort number to get the dental resident on call at the hospital. He told me that the swelling peaks at 3 days which was that day and to not worry.  With that reassurance I went to bed... only to wake up at midnight with puss in my mouth.

At that point I was pissed off and exhausted and I just wanted the whole think to be done already. Went to the walk in Monday morning and the doc there almost tried to shoo me away telling me to go to the dentist. I put my foot down because I had already been there and I didn't need a dentist to tell me puss comes from infections. He agreed to write the Rx and told me I should get in touch with the dentist anyway "if it's not healing as quickly as you'd like". Arg.

Anyway I called the dental clinic office just so they could update my records but it was pretty much impossible to get someone on the phone so I just left them a msg with the pertinent info.

A few days into antibiotics now and feeling a lot better. There's no pain, the hard lump is reduced, and I fell much less exhausted.

Let that be a lesson folks. Take care of your teeth and if you do have to go to a dentist, stick up for yourself when something doesn't seem right.

Monday 4 January 2016

Community Garden FTW

I was sad. Living in an appartment for two years has really brought out the feeling of longing and I didn't know what I was longing for at first. Turns out I just really miss gardening. There was no way to set up a proper garden anywhere on the appartment building property even if I could secure the building manager's permission... and then it hit me, Community Gardens!

I went online to research and I'm lucky that our city has quite a few to choose from. There's one right by my work and after contacting the coordinator and visiting to pick out a plot, I'm going to be gardening this spring! We do the official paperwork this month and I've already planned out the planting and rotations (took several drafts, but that's what I do) as well as been out there to clean up the mess the last person left behind.  The way I have it figured, we'll have fresh salad fixings from spring to fall as well as some long growing season items like sweetpotatoes and brussel sprouts in the late fall.

I'm very excided about all this but I'm also nervous the late start to winter means a late spring.

Saturday 2 January 2016

Slutty Mutant Franken-clones

This is an old post from an old blog but I really like it and I want it here.

I was talking with my mom the other day and we came upon the topic of apples trees. I mentioned I'd need more than one if I were to have them on the farm because they're slutty mutants and she just looked at me like I had three heads, so I figured I'd tell everyone about apple sex.

The branch an apple is on decides it's characteristics. Pollination decides the characteristics of the seed/future tree.,_eplebl%C3%B8ming_i_Oslo_seint_i_mai_2005..jpg

When it comes to pollination, apples are not selective. They'll take pollen from any apple tree that's not their variety, even crab apples. Most apples are self-sterile (meaning they need a different variety to pollinate them) and it's important to note that the very few that are considered self-fruiting produce more and healthier fruit with cross pollination.

This means that any seed produced could have different parents from seeds in the same fruit let alone on the same tree.

Apple trees also have a habit of bud mutations or "sports" where one branch or even one apple is different from the rest. The mutation could be something simple like being slightly more red; or it could be something more drastic like being much larger, much sweeter, and striped. There was one apple a farmer found in 2009 that was 1/2 red and 1/2 green with a sharp line down the middle. These sorts of things occur fairly rarely but can happen on any apple tree. That means, even untouched by humans, one tree could have more than one variety growing on it's branches.

These two things is why we have the massive varieties of apples we do. They just kept cross breeding and mutating into amazingly different varieties til a human came along and decided they liked it just as it was and didn't want them to change any more.

So with all this free love and personal change how do we get to have varieties that are the same from tree to tree?  Glad you asked.

It's actually rather simple. Just think Frankenstein.

When someone wants a new apple tree of a specific variety they just take a branch from a tree producing apples they like, and attach it to some roots. The actual process is kinda finicky but that's the basic premise. You clone the parent plant by attaching part of it to the roots of another.

The cut branch is called the scion and the roots are called (surprisingly) root stock. The root stock lends it's own characteristics to the growing tree such as disease resistance and most notably, height. Many people do not want 50 foot tall apple trees so they use dwarf or mini root stocks. The leaves, flowers, and fruiting characteristics are given by the scion. Putting these two together to form a new tree can be done by various types of grafting but that's enough info for it's own post.

So the next time you enjoy nibbling on one of these Franken-clones, 
be happy that the mutant parents were slutty enough to provide such a wide variety.