Fire


To start – with all the the misery and crap going on in the world at the moment, this would be considered small potato’s…I almost didn’t write it. But I’ve always written about the good, bad and the ugly so….

I’m tired. This will be a long read. Under the heading of ‘it’ll never happen to us because we’re careful’…

Directly across from the gate – start of the fire.

Thursday evening Feb24 – Bruce went out for a last check on things and discovered the battery trickle charger (hooked to a battery) had done a melt down, started what seemed a small fire in the room I store my bee equipment in. It wasn’t a small fire, it was already in the wall, already in the ceiling. He promptly emptied a 20 pound fire extinguisher into it. Ran to the house to grab another and yelled ‘fire’. I called it in and snatched up what I thought was important to get out with (more on that later).

We have large extinguishers at every door to every building, and in every building. My son ran down with one, we emptied six to no avail. Jimmy managed to snatch the hose out of the barn (just heavy smoke, no flames yet), I tossed it on our hydrant and realizing we were not going to extinguish the fire, he started hosing down the extension that is attached to the house that houses the water cistern and the parts room. Bruce had already moved both our trucks to the road – excellent thinking on his part – we would have lost them both. He ran for the cabin and slammed the master switch for the hydro – our barn hydro tags off that cabin and he didn’t want it back feeding and starting a fire in the breaker panel in the cabin.

I have never, experienced anything like this. The incredible heat, the incomprehensible speed at which this thing began to consume some 80 feet of buildings. The feed room, the bee equipment room, the layer barn, the milking parlour…as the fire department pulled up (both Pineview and Buckhorn Fire Departments) dropped the big water bladder on the road, dragged their hoses down the driveway – it was almost moot. Well – it was. They tried. Truck after truck dumping water, leaving to refill, returning to dump water, every available fireman/woman – I’m yelling at them the house in on the left, I’m certain it’s going to go up as well, it’s smouldering, the fence is smouldering. Bruce is on the roof trying to direct water onto the siding to no avail. A fireman yells at him to get off the roof – not because he doesn’t want him up there, but because he too, is starting to smoulder. He jumps down and the fireman douses him with the hose.

Barn now fully engulfed

In any emergency – I am on instant auto pilot. I find the very pregnant cow is fine, she’s in the far back pen laying down and chewing her cud. The steer is fine – he’s up front simply filling his face with hay and apparently thinking it was nice to be warm. I know the chickens are gone. I know one of the cats made it out of the barn – and heard the other not make it out. The geese, on the back side of the layer barn in an outdoor compound are blocks of ice from the spray of the hoses, our driveway is turning into a lake, the house continues to want to catch. The fire Cheifs brother shows up with his drone to try and get a read on the layout of the place – it’s dark, it’s smoky, aside from the flames you can’t see shit. Jimmy takes them around back and they manage to let the geese free to a field as they tackle the opposite side of the buildings.

Finally, some five hours later, all that is left standing right up to the back of the barn, is a skeleton with a few sections of partial roofs. The firemen use their temp sensor to get a read on hot spots. Bruce uses his chainsaw to cut a huge hole in the end of the barn so they can get a ‘look’. It’s still incredibly Smokey. All you can smell is fire, burnt everything. Steam is billowing off of every surface because the temp is heading to -20’overnight. They leave.

View random person took from the road – this was apparently the largest fire in Pineview history.

We wander around and start double checking, we end up hooking the hose back to the hydrant because there are still hot spots and glowing beams and we’re not comfortable with that. Lots of coughing and gagging and trying not to stumble over debris. By midnight we decide we’re safe enough.

Returning to the house we sit there, still on auto pilot, in some disbelief. We decide we’re fortunate to still have a house. A place to sleep. Livestock. A huge lean-to is still standing. It holds our sawmill, some hay. It’s directly behind two small shelters that are still standing. We have a place to keep the cow and the steer. We still have the guest cabin across the yard, the workshop that has our table saw and a lift of cedar planks. My sons trailer, some distance further back, is fine. We are super thankful that for once, the damn wind wasn’t blowing from the south. We try very hard not to think about what we have lost. Time for that later. We try to sleep, but every ten, fifteen minutes- one of us is up and going outside to look. We’re both up at five a.m. Bruce walks the mess and returns to report it’s still a lot of smoke, still a lot of steam. The wind has returned. Seems okay. We sit for a coffee and decide we will go out and see if there might be anything to salvage.

Suddenly, the dog does something very odd. When he wants out, he sits down next to me and simply drops his head on my knee. But he does not do that, instead, he puts a paw on my leg. Now he knows all four of his massive feet belong on the floor. I ignore him. He gets up, walks around the table to Bruce and does the same. I’m tired. I’m not interested in trying to figure out why he’s forgotten his manners. I get up to let him out. I open the door – our lean-to is fully engulfed in fire, the dreaded wind has blown a spark from somewhere, the flames high enough I think our cabin/saw room is on fire as well. I run for the phone and call it in, pick up the same crap I left the house with not twelve hours prior and simply exit the house and park myself in the yard – Bruce and I both certain we are now going to lose it all – and if they don’t get on top of this, the trees will catch and our neighbors place will be next.

Pole barn Friday morning – view from sons trailer. Near side, seven cords firewood – it went up too.

The same volunteers who dropped their dinner forks on the plate the night prior and ran to the fire station to gear up, now drop their morning coffees and repeat the procedure. The road gets blocked, the bladder hits the road, the hoses come out, the same two fire departments show up. By eleven o’clock they have a handle on it – mostly. Burning hay is hard to extinguish. The remainder of the barn is burning again. Bruce puts a call into neighbor to the west who lives a mile away past the big hydro towers and asks if he can possibly walk his excavator over to knock everything down – it needs to be put out. Out out. Not smouldering, not maybe out. Out. It takes half an hour for him to walk the machine over, clear a trail through the bush, crawl it through the ditch and down our driveway- I’ve never been so happy to see something in my life. He promptly starts flattening absolutely everything, the firemen close behind dousing spot fires behind him. At some point they wrap up and leave, excavator guy (Shawn) leaves the machine here, tosses the keys under the mat, tells Jimmy (who can run anything) that if the hay flares up again, he’s welcome to use it.

Jimmy gives it a few hours then climbs in the machine and starts flipping hay and covering it with massive amounts of snow. Just because.

We – are all still on auto pilot. We now tell ourselves that at least we still have a house and a cabin/wood working room. Our trucks are still safe at the neighbors. We’re fine. The cow and steer are fine. Some of the cats are fine. The dog is fine. The geese are fine.

Takeaways. There’s always a takeaway isn’t there. Most notable – fire damage is nothing like Hollywood. No wandering the debris vaguely teary eyed picking up a random picture frame with a cherished photo behind some cracked glass. No fetching up the remainder of a favourite blanket your grandmother crocheted for you. I had some odd idea there would be something to salvage. There wasn’t hardly anything.

Start of a scrap pile on the left

I’ll start from the front- the ‘feed room’. A post and beam structure housing alfalfa hay, two one ton bags of grain, several bags of feed, chicken plucker, bags of new insulation yet to be installed, plywood, a brand new five speed transmission that goes in Bruce’s old Ford…and miscellaneous. Salvaged: our trailer hitches.

Next, the ‘bee room’. Three freezers full of beef, pork, chicken. All of my bee supers, brood boxes, drawn comb, my honey extractor, cabinets, a desk- my toolbox full of tools I stored there when I retired from building transmissions, fifteen dozen wide mouth pints I use for butter. The milk bottles from my grandfathers dairy. Salvaged: two partially frozen roasting chickens (fed to the cats), a minuscule handful of tools retrieved only after we managed to cut the wreck of toolbox apart to look. Zero sign that there were any freezers in that room, or anything else for that matter.

My toolbox (roll cabinet). There was a stainless wrapped butcher block top on it. Never did find that.

Next, layer barn. Salvaged: zero. No sign of even a layer carcass.

Next: milking parlour/barn. Salvaged: the sink, a jacketed wood stove no longer safe to use. The end of two hoes. No sign of the water pump, the water barrels, the workbench, any building tools. No head gates. No compressor, no vacuum pump for the surge milker. No bench vice.

Next, two outside enclosed sheds, gone. Next: the pole barn (lean-to) that houses our hammermill, our sawmill, hay, grain, horse stocks. Salvaged: Nothing.

And of course the zillion things I can’t be bothered to list – we all do it. If it doesn’t belong in the house it gets pitched in one of the barns.

Water cistern room/small parts room (electrical/plumbing etc) that’s attached to the house. So close.

Takeaway: we have all at one time or another I’m sure, discussed what we would grab should we have to get out because of a fire. Well – my house was not on fire, but I’ll tell you what I had ‘time’ to grab. Mine and Bruce’s cell phones, my purse,and my laptop. Bruce grabbed an armload of winter outerwear – he thought we might be sleeping in the truck before the night was done. We tossed it all on a garden bed and there it sat. I grabbed the phones because that’s how I communicate, pay bills, bank. The reality of it is – we had other things to do, fire extinguishers to operate, a hose to hook up, livestock to find. The following day when the lean-to went up? I grabbed the same items and walked back out the door with them. We always had some idea we would get the firearms out of the house – sure, if you have time to jockey the stupid lock on the cabinet and pack armloads of them out. Ammo – the box weighs at least a hundred pounds. Photo albums – really? I’ve literally dozens of them. Important papers – yes, in a pinch I could have grabbed the file box. I’m ruthless with my paperwork – never have more than a file box worth. Mementos, do-dads, anything else, forget it.

Incomprehensible. The destruction. The absolute lack of anything recognizable. Kicking about the mess – I’ve found one blob of melted glass – and considering the temperature at which glass melts, I now understand why I’ve yet to find even a hint of an entire standard transmission. Or a hint of much else.

The cleanup. Its extensive. One foot in front of the other, by Monday I had the scrap yard drop a bin. Shawn had spent Sunday with his excavator separating scrap steel/metal from debris. Tin roofing, and much unrecognizable stuff. By Friday – we had loaded two bins. Five tons – they pay a hundred dollars a ton. Now we have a massive pile of debris to deal with.

Those who are wondering – no, no insurance. When you live in a rural area, insurance (if you can find a carrier) is obscenely expensive. In our case, around 5000 dollars a year. Insurance companies do not want to insure outbuildings on a farm, never mind outbuildings that might be storing hay, or grain. The house – we used to have house insurance- but times change. They now will not insure a house that has only wood heat. You must have another source of heat now, preferably gas or electric forced air. We do not. It was a close call for sure.

This is 60 seconds of drone footage the fire department sent me (complete with soundtrack which may or may not play). Seeing the fire from above was….interesting to say the least.

Will we rebuild…no. We will put up a small cow shed for the cow/calf to get out of the weather. We will convert a spot we used to store firewood, into a spot that will house a half a dozen layers. We will repair the house. There is no rebuilding eighteen years worth of…what we had. We simply don’t have it in us to do so. We tell ourselves ‘it could have been worse’. It’s just stuff.

Are we okay? Yes. And no. We’re off autopilot. We have ‘moments’. Moments when you find everything overwhelming and so much shit. Interspersed with moments where you’re grateful for what you still have. Grateful for the offers of help, grateful for those who are helping however they can (and there are many many people). And everyday you get out of bed and start swinging for the fences again. Because that’s what we do.

Silver linings – a friend picked up the cow and the steer, housed them in some very comfortable quarters. Four days later Buttercup had a beautiful bull calf. Remarkable.

And unbelievably – yesterday, we found a layer hiding out behind the cabin. A little worse for wear…she’s now comfortably hanging out in the goose shelter.

Hindsight: having our barns so close to the house etc – it was such a nice set up because it blocked the miserable winter winds. Kept the back yard from drifting full of snow. Everything was handy, not so far to walk when you’re out checking for baby piglets, or a calf. We’re we to ever build again – all of those buildings would be a big distance from the house. It was an ‘all the eggs in one basket’ having them joined together end to end. Convenient to walk through from end to end without going outside, yes. But had all those buildings been separate, and a distance from each other, we might have only lost one instead of all.

Fire extinguishers. Despite the fact they were of no use in this situation – I will have them recharged and hang them back up. They are invaluable in some situations, I wouldn’t be without them. Had we not had them I would have forever wondered if we could have made a difference. As it was, a fireman commented on the fact that at least we were prepared best we could be and had tried.

Well, I will close this out. Next time I write I will hopefully have an update on some progress.

Please take care, all of you 🙂

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Round up…photo heavy


Just a general collection from the year…some good, some not so – but we collect ourselves up and try again in 2022 😊

Daisy’s calf Loki.
We lost Daisy to milk fever this year – despite a timely vet call. This was a tough one to get back up from. Buttercup – her calf came out backwards – we had to pull him, but we were too late. Loki got fostered over to Buttercup. It worked. Sometimes things are what they are. Both are thriving.
My last post I mentioned the puppy. Back story – our 12 year old mixed breed – woke one day with a serious intestinal issue. We lost him 24 hours later. Our 13 1/2 year old wolf hybrid, already tired in the hips…her heart simply broke, she never. Stopped. Pacing. Howling. Looking for him. She did stop eating. Except scrambled eggs. Until one day she stopped eating those too. We thought the pup might being a spark back to her. It didn’t.
Yeah. Sometimes the hits keep coming.
Copper 😊I have no idea what she thinks she’s doing- we had to block her out of the layer pen – she was kicking the layers out and commandeering the nests with eggs in them 🤷‍♀️
Onto better things…nothing sweeter than a granddaughter and her horse heading to the country store with friends for ice cream. ❤️
And yeah – who needs a saddle when your young and flexible and have no fear and love horses 1 this one is a marshmallow . 👍🏻
Orange Cat. Old. Fat. One of many resident mousers…though she rightly retires to the wood stove in the barn come winter.
Graduating grandson – yeah he’s that tall. The school did a live feed of the ceremony cause ‘Covid’ – I didn’t say this out loud, but got a little teary here – where the hell does the time go?
Proud son in law, proud son.
Found out wasp sting = anaphylactic shock. (And in the words of my wise daughter “Mom! Jesus – your blood pressure!”) Also found out my son can turn a twenty five minute trip to the hospital into a seven minute derby while still managing to look at me a dozen times asking “you doing okay?”
(Not tho muths Thimmy – as my lips were swelling and my tongue was going numb)
😬
Note to self: don’t pitch your expired epi pen until you have another. It would have still been helpful.
Speaking of wise daughter – I can’t be more proud of this girl! Managed to pull that off while working no less. At the top top of her game now ❤️
No – I have no idea why one hive has decided to exit stage left. Cool to look at though…every year the bees do something to surprise me.

Summer, fall…miscellaneous 😊

So. Much. Grass to cut. Front yard.
Blanch freeze blanch freeze – the gardens produced very well despite unheard of heat dome with temps above 40C
Yes – that is my toaster 😁
The beginnings of fermented hot sauce – yeah it’s a hit with the guys. I’ll take their word it’s good. I also did a sriracha- that one I can tolerate.
Pineapple habanero 🥵
This man is never more happy than when we’ve got firewood coming in. He would go every day if he could.
Drop em, drag em, cut em, load em. This day I was watching for bear, handy to a rifle. There’s the remains of a moose kill just off the road. Never been a fan of getting firewood during hunting season.
When you get a spare weekend…
Fortunate to get sockeye this year. We canned up fifteen…son had fun with the smoker.
Son coming into the sort yard (in case you wondered where all the trees are) This is one ‘lane’ of many.
Depending on where he hauls from…one, two, three loads a day. Look behind the truck – logged and not logged. Yet. 🤷‍♀️
Using the propane stove – a luxury in the summer, so many years I only had the cook stove to use. Mind you, the first year we moved here – we canned tomatoes on an open fire outside 😂.
As we say in the north – you spend all summer getting ready for winter…
Because when it’s your only source of heat and you get temp like this….
Even the dog, jacket and all – needs a break from it…
Though it is pretty….
What I was hoping for in 2021…
What I got 😉 messy – but we got to the end of it.
And sometimes you have to appreciate the moments when you find them.

Love you all – wishing you a stellar 2022 😊

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Eventful


First thing that came into my head – it’s been an eventful year.

Ten weeks

Busy. Always. Working harder, again. Watching it snow, think we’re probably ready for the big freeze, snowmageddon, whatever winter throws at us. Managed double the firewood we usually have time to get…feeling good about that. Managed to finally tie up a half dozen projects around the farm that have been waiting and waiting…place looks decent. Cupboards full…a relief.

Covid – it’s about so much more than a virus. It’s about supply chain, availability – or not of product – still. It’s about making choices. Vaccinate or no? No? Well where I live if you aren’t, then you get to NOT: go out to eat, attend concerts, go to a bar, fly, cross the border, attend a hockey game, attend the community Halloween thing for the kids….it’s a long list. If you are vaccinated you still have to wear a mask. If you are, you have to decide if your ‘friends’ who are not, are welcome at your house. In our case, that’s a ‘not welcome’ and no that doesn’t come with an ‘I’m sorry’. You have a right to choose not to be vaccinated – of course you do. I have a right to feel safe as I can against a virus that’s still killing thousands every day. 🤷‍♀️No hard feelings either way – I got other things to worry about than my social status.

The mood has shifted. Covid is turning some, many of us really, into jerks. Angry jerks. Rude jerks. I get it. I’m still trying, but my patience is wearing thin. We have spent the last…two? years keeping our heads down, following all the rules. Doing what we’re told to do. No gatherings. No big family Christmas. No travelling. Wear your damn mask. We were told, (rather optimistically I think) that collectively we would beat this virus. Most of us thinking sort, knew that wouldn’t be the case. And we soldier on.

Mother Nature wins.

The hits keep coming, BC lower mainland was hit with the mother of all atmospheric rivers. The lower mainland supplies the rest of the province with the majority of our milk, cheese, eggs, chicken …produce. Untold thousands of birds, dead. Many many cows dead. Many more to be euthanized. We were cut off completely. Every single road to the north (4 major highways) – broken. Landslides, mudslides. The engineering feat called the Coquihalla, completely destroyed in five separate places, will not be up and running for months. Yes, we can get stuff from Alberta – but Alberta cannot feed BC. BC feeds much of Alberta.

Hmmm – lemon loaf? Preserved lemons? Lemonade? Wait – there’s some weird cabbage things still on the shelf!

As a testament to where people’s heads were at, in one day, the shelves in the grocery store were stripped bare. People snapped. It’s winter, Christmas is coming – and still with the Covid. We’ve lost our civility. I had a lady gesture me to proceed her in a grocery line because I only had one item. An elderly man left his place some distance back to march his way to me and proceed to yell at me to get in the damn line. In Costco I watched a man storm on past with a cart full, took note half of it was full of Cheerios, and wondered if he were going to eat them dry – there wasn’t a cup of milk to be had anywhere in town.

One highway open now…essential freight only. The Hope/Princeton. (Or the hopeless Princeton- it’s a rather wretched road full of switchbacks and steep drop offs that if you’re not familiar with, uses up all your driving nerves). Freight is slowly creeping through.

People refuse to grasp, all the food they see in the store – it does not show up once a month. It arrives every single day of the year. By truck. From someplace else. It will take many many months for this mess to get straightened out. And the rains keep coming. One atmospheric river warning after another. Don’t get me started on climate change.

Well – how are we doing? Fine. Just fine. The cow is dry as she’s due in February, so I guess if there’s no milk, there’s no milk. Should we run out of cheese and butter? 🤷‍♀️ There are worse things. We’re pretty solid for a year, maybe more. Is it because I’m a hoarder? No. I stay prepared. It has taken many many years of thinking ahead to get where we are now. There are others like me, who are prepared as well. No, you don’t need a farm to be prepared. You need common sense and the ability to think ahead. That’s it.

Another blog I follow https://livingmydreamlifeonthefarm.wordpress.com recently posed a theoretical question, if we had to go back to rationing as we did in the war, could we do that, would it still work? (She put it better than I just did). My answer? Not a chance. Now that I’ve watched the fallout from the storms this last couple of weeks? Definitely not a chance. Fuel rationing has started in the lower mainland. No more than 30 litres per fill. Guess how many people are driving from station to station until they can fit no more fuel in the tank? Did I say the pipeline was also damaged?

Okay on a more cheerful note…we have a new puppy. Our last two made it to 12 years, and 13.5 years. I’ve never been without a dog, always large dogs. We decided this time only one dog, which we intend to have as a more inside than outside dog. I like my guard dogs – all my dogs have had that job. We’re rural. Theft takes place on a regular basis. So under the heading of ‘what was I really thinking’ we picked up a Neapolitan Mastiff. I absolutely love this puppy – but there is yet to be a single day where I am not training him to do something, or not do something…they are smart, stubborn as hell. He is 8 months old now, but still considered a puppy. He is also 130 pounds already and will get bigger yet. When he gets the puppy zoomies, my furniture gets rearranged. Every time he drinks water his face needs to be wiped (therefore in his head ALL the towels in the house are his by default, as is the laundry, and the socks, and….) he is not allowed toys in the house because he flings them with surprising force at everything. His outside ‘toy’ is a truck tire with a lead rope tied around it – and yes he drags that around no problem. He snores as loud as my hubby, and he has gas that wilts house plants. He is very attached to his ‘people’. He is very good at guarding his people. He is a huge handful, but I’m getting through it. I am also training my hubby – who thinks if you love something hard enough there is no training required 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️ and then wonders why he can’t sit at the kitchen table without the dog trying to get in his lap and chew on his head. I’ll try to remember to update my readers on the puppy project.

Yum. Firewood.

I hope all of you are doing well, getting through whatever it is you’ve been tasked with getting through. Know I think of every one of you often 😊

8 months
My name is Neo and I’m a moose, and cardboard is my second favourite thing after firewood.
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Heads up! Blatant self promotion….


Done. Finally!

Please read the blurb….if it’s not your ‘type’ of book, then for the love of….take a pass 😂. If it is….it’s available on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca (paperback and ebook). If you read it, please leave a review. ALL reviews, good,bad or otherwise, count on Amazon metrics. 😊 Tap the cover, it should link to Amazon.

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Still here…


Crazy – the difference between one year and the next…I kept putting writing a post off – didn’t want to talk about the ‘Covid’, and conversely – didn’t want to ignore the struggles some are going through by sounding all positive and upbeat and ignoring the issue.

We’re all affected of course, in different ways. My daughter is in a province where things have totally run amok – as a paramedic is considered on the front lines, and has gone from having to mask and glove depending on the call – to having to suit up like she might have to haul a victim out of Fukushima. And there’s no end in sight.

A lighter moment – Daughter and favourite partner – somebody saw fit to gift some coffee cards 😊
When you happen to come across the fire department practice and get to go up in the ladder truck 😬
And get the captains helmet 😁

My son – has been working up here since last November….simply hauled his travel trailer onto the property and set up house. Went from hauling the forest to the factory sixteen to eighteen hours a day – chains on chains off reliably miserable logging roads in mountainous terrain hoping he wasn’t going to run out of horseshoes and be one of ‘those guys’ at the bottom of a thousand foot drop off. Left that to haul tankers of fuel (we call it a bomb) to places I’ve never heard of despite living here now most of my life. To places where two days of no cell service or contact are the norm – where if you don’t come back after two days somebody will go looking for you….and hope it’s just a breakdown and you haven’t been hijacked ( we call those loads the winning lottery ticket ). First haul of fuel to a mine – a set of wheels decided to go in a direction his truck wasn’t….tires that had just been replaced at a garage the previous day. Somebody didn’t do their job…..as my son put it ‘hopefully they didn’t wind up in somebody’s living room’. Trucking is an ‘essential service’ yet employers are working their drivers like rented mules – there’s a shortage of qualified drivers these days.

Yep – that’s a road….

Finally left that to take a break and now spends his days hauling dirt from one pile to another fairly close to home for the winter.

The bomb
Forest going to the factory

My hubby – after working at the same garage for twelve years as the head mechanic – left for another garage that has some kind of concept that Covid protocols exist for a reason. The shop he was working at, still to this day has nothing in place. No sanitizer, masks, signage….customers can sit at the lunch table and cough all over you should they wish. He had to draw a line in the sand. If he gets sick – if I get sick – who the hell is going to look after the livestock- assuming we survive it.

Son, hubby, buddy – some nice planks from the mill
Yep bought a sawmill!

I went back to work last October, as a veterinary assistant in a large/small animal clinic where most of the large animal livestock is dealt with on farm. I liked the job, I loved the days when I was out on the truck. But -the hours are incredibly long, you don’t have time to eat, there is never a minute when you don’t have to race around and do something else. Covid multiplied the workload by ten – nobody allowed in the clinic, all forms dealt with online…. customers dealt with in the parking lot…Ultimately – its a perfect job for somebody who literally has no life other than that. I’m not exaggerating. There was nothing left of me to give to anyone or anything at the end of the week. I left the job October of this year. I need a better work/life balance than that – Covid or not.

Supply and demand – even though we’re in an area where we’re not inundated with cases of Covid – shopping for anything has become a gong show. People have collectively lost their minds. We’re fine here in my household, food is not an issuebut try and find a snap lid for canning (none), navy beans or any dry beans (none), pint jars (none), yeast (none), rice (none), you get the picture. I have been preparing for insanity such as this for most of my life. Whatever I can’t make myself – I keep a supply of (yes canning lids – though I’m damn near out). I keep my hunting license current, my ammo stocked, purchase game tags whether I use them or not. This year I canned almost double what I would normally….nothing like seeing empty shelves in the grocery stores to kick start a whole new level of workload.

The climate change issue that plagues us these days dictated that unless my vegetables learned to swim they weren’t going to survive. We simply hopped in the truck and went south to a huge vegetable market and bought what we couldn’t grow. Next summer I need to come up with a way to garden in the rain – I don’t think it’s going to change. Ordered my seeds yesterday – unbelievably- many are already sold out.

It’s times like these I’m glad I insist on the slaughterhouse returning ALL of our beef and pork. Beef bones (beef stock). Beef kidney fat (bar soap). Pork kidney fat (pastry lard) – and so on.

I’m also happy to share the skills I have – a friend spent the day here a few weeks ago because she wanted to learn to make soap. She too has been canning up double her usual menu – and expanding her skills to get through the winter. I’m happy to see people I know digging in for the long haul, neighbors starting gardens, people looking out for each other. Our local community Facebook page administrator has started a food/gift drive for any local families that need help this year- so far seven families are on that list, including seniors – put on that list because people in the community know they might be needing some help and put forward their names to the administrator. Makes one think that things will ultimately be okay one day if we can all just keep our shit together.

Bright spots to be had….when the Covid lockdown hit our granddaughter came up stayed with my son – 12 years old – she’s always took to the farm like she’s been here all her life. Set about doing her school work online, taming the barn cats and kittens, getting up at four o’clock in the morning to meet Bruce in the barn to do chores, feed pigs and chickens and cows – chase AWOL steers back into the field with a shove to the rear and zero concept that they outweigh her by a thousand pounds.

Apparently I needed to see the pig – in the house 😂

The bees outdid themselves this year – went from two hives to five via one split and two swarms….gave one swarm away – wintering four hives. Think I might leave it at that – mind you Bruce thinks ‘maybe two more hives’ 😊

Managed a quick trip to see my daughter and grandson – a little nerve wracking considering, but as she pointed out – her household is about as safe as safe gets as her dad also lives with her and being health compromised they’re uber strict on protocol. Oddly, as we did some shopping and errands, the mask mandate was being followed there better than it was being followed here at the time.

I’m shrinking! (Actually best and only grandson is 6’6”) ❤️

Let’s all decide we’re going to get through thisbecause really, we have to. And as much as we instinctively want to close ranks and look out for number one….we need to also recognize that there are people finding it tougher than we are – and do something about it. If all you can manage is to check in on someone, then do so. If you’re going for groceries anyway – is there something you can pick up? Check in by phone, check in by text – sometimes people just need to hear another voice.

Thinking of all of my followers, all of the bloggers I follow. Take care and stay safe!

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Time time time…..


Never enough of it I’m thinking…..this is a long long read…..

Stretching the mozzarella…….

My last post – I promised to do a series related to farming/livestock/ etc, using questions I get asked often. I tried. I have a long winded first instalment in my drafts that I’ll likely pitch in the dust bin. I don’t like it. To me….it comes across as preachy. Or uppity. Which is not what I’m aiming for. So bye bye to that effort with no regrets. Might take a stab at it another time.

This summer has been incredibly hectic – it seems I’ve almost managed to nail down the fine art of multi-tasking (at the moment I’m making cheese, blanching and freezing beans, trying to write a post without things going haywire – but hey – I love a challenge 😂). Those of you who have faithfully followed my blog know that I made an effort over the last year or so to slooowww down. Two problems. One, things don’t get done. Two, I simply can’t function at that pace. For whatever reason – I need to be busy – so – busy I am. 🙃

The little white things in the middle – eggs

There is something to be said for being at home – this year has been pretty successful on the farm – it has been in the past, but not without a lot of reactive scrambling. I have had the opportunity to stay on top of the work load. The freezers are filling up, the garden is thriving, the canning shelves aren’t looking so bare. But to be honest- I’ve simply traded one workload for another – I easily spend a solid eight or more hours a day ‘farming’ instead of working for a paycheck. Does it financially balance out? Yes and no. Our off farm expenditures are extremely low, but there are some nonetheless. I don’t necessarily have to go back to work – but if I’m being realistic- I probably should – find something part time. Yes. I’m going to be picky.

Sometimes I have spare time!

This year the planets seemed to align in better than usual fashion. We raised two weaner pigs at the same time both cows were milking – result? Grain bill cut by easily a third or more because of the gallons of whey from my cheesemaking (and a few failed attempt cheeses – more on that later). Other result? They were slaughter weight a month early. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing – where we live, there is a very limited choice in slaughter facilities. When we get our weaners – the second their feet hit the pen floor we are on the phone scheduling a date for them to be processed – they are that busy. Why does it matter when they’re ready? For one, there comes a point where your pigs are gaining more fat than meat. Two – there comes a point where the pigs are too large for the scalder – which means they have to be skinned – which means I lose out on the fat, the skin on the ham….etc. Very fortunately for us – because we’ve been loyal to the same facility, and because that planetary alignment thing was going on – they gave us a new date a month early. Note for next year – if cows are milking, schedule an earlier date. Yes – we can do our own pigs, and have – but that old familiar time crunch dictated they get trailered to the slaughterhouse.

This year, we bought no new laying hens. Our closest hatchery that sells to small scale farmers – was bought out by another years ago. Changes continue to be made. They won’t ship less than 25 birds (warmth issue) which is fine, we’ve alway ordered 25, but split 15/10 meat birds to layers. This year, the hatch dates weren’t the same. We could have 25 of one or 25 of the other. We settled on 25 meat birds….My daughter generously offered to take time off work, help process and happily take more home than the usual few I pop into a cooler when she visits.

Now any of you who have processed chicken – will likely agree – there’s a definite ‘eewww’ factor involved. My daughter, not having a chance to be here for processing prior to this year – was forewarned – “you’re gonna taste raw chicken” I said “- it’s absorbed through your hands”. She came through with flying colours til near the end – when she could ‘taste raw chicken’ 🤢. I suggested to her – to do what I do every year. Cook a chicken the minute you have a chance and you’ll get past the ‘eewww’ factor. I always yank one out of the ice water the following morning and smack it into a pan, truss it up and stuff it into the oven…..as many chickens as I’ve processed – it’s how I get past the ‘ick’ 🤔. The smallest of the bunch – five pounds. The largest – eleven pounds (larger than I like). Weeks before slaughter date some of the roosters were actually crowing. Considering we do them between 12 and 16 weeks old – you gotta know how genetically messed with those birds are. We have tried raising ‘dual purpose’ birds – laying breeds that will theoretically give you a decent amount of meat in several months instead of several weeks. I have had no luck with those breeds – always end up with a ‘tired and tough stewing’ bird. Genetically messed with birds it is.

We have found a new ‘firewood guy’ – they’re getting harder to come by – guys that bring decent sized wood and bring an actual cord. I’m more than happy to be paying for wood this year. It’s all about the ‘time’ factor again. We do have our saws ready, and have done some brief scouting in the mountains- this weekend we’re going to check on a new logging road being pushed through that we discovered a few weeks ago. It’s muddy, and it’s narrow – I’m hoping they’ve bulldozed a few spots where you can get off the road and park. At last check, as much standing dead trees as we could see to knock down – there simply isn’t a place to be off the road to fall and cut. We do not want to be parked on an active logging road – it’s a quick way to be dead should a logging truck be sliding down the mountain with a full load of logs. In the meantime – wood guy is doing the same – while managing to bring a couple of cords a week and still get some to his other customers.

The gardens – after a slow cold and wet start this year….are producing like mad. In an effort to ‘work smarter not harder’ I have again changed what I’m growing. This year we tore down the old small greenhouse and I kaiboshed the salad greens, the peppers, and the few tomatoes I bothered with. The herbs got stuffed into a small bed outside to sink or swim, the cukes got jammed into pots and are oddly enough, producing. In place of the greenhouse, we built a large calf shelter – we will be over wintering both steers born on the farm, and as the girls are still milking and will be for some time – we needed to keep them separated from mommas – who think any time is a good time to feed a calf, whether he be 500 pounds or not 🙄.

I don’t miss the greenhouse – aside from my dry beans (which will not survive frosts outside) I never considered it very productive. I can foresee a much bigger greenhouse at some point in the future, but some planning needs to be done. If I have a greenhouse, I need one with enough room to produce produce produce. Things around here need to make sense, give me a return. Outside, I stuck with broccoli, beans, carrots, onions, potatoes for the rest of it. In other words – things I know will grow, and things we eat. Tons of kale – but that’s for the layers – I can’t make kale taste good in my house for no amount of effort.

Bees bees 🐝 into my second season now….I’m more comfortable making decisions and living with the consequences than I was last year. I decided not to purchase a second package of bees – rather I figured I would split the colony I have and let them raise their own queen. Because I’m more inclined to be proactive rather than reactive, I waited only long enough to see eight frames of brood before splitting. No, the actual population wasn’t in danger of swarming – but we have a short season and I figured sooner rather than later.

I’ve never seen my queen (and yes I’ve looked carefully and I’ve taken pictures and stared at them frame by frame). I know I have a queen because I see eggs. Simple. Now when I split – I simply split, walked back out there in four days – the split with the eggs told me where the queen was. Then things kind of run amok – ish. The queenless hive seemed disinclined to make a queen (they had eggs) – they made a half hearted effort, built some cells, took them down – until there were no eggs left to work with. Of course a queenless hive is a shrinking hive – still, the bees remained industrious and continued to pack in the nectar until had they made a queen they’d have had to move a lot of honey (or I would have had to give her some frames). I had concerns I’d end up with drone laying workers, but the girls stayed the course and simply foraged. I finally swiped a frame of brood from the queenright hive and hoped they’d have another try. They did – I found a beautiful capped cell July 12, left things alone until August 7 and voila! Eggs and capped brood. Late, I know- but happy camper I am. I really didn’t want to recombine – though I would have had the second try at a queen failed. I think they will be populous enough to make the winter, and I’m leaving the honey behind. I’m happy with the results – I belong to the local bee club and some Beekeepers had queen failures this year, some had swarms…..I probably am in possession of some beginners luck. Next year I hope to split again.

I’ve no intention of selling any honey, rather I am approaching this bee project as just that – a project I expect to take a few years before I’m satisfied with the results. Everything here is considered a long term effort….the milk cows, the bees, same thing to me. Put in the time, do your homework and you’ll see a good result. It’s funny, I did not get bees to ‘save the bees’ as is popular these days. I got bees because I don’t want to buy honey – yet I’ve quite unexpectedly found myself absolutely fascinated with them.

Queen cell

Cows and cheese and butter and milk and cows and cheese……

I never posted about this – the reason we have two cows. After our Daisy had her last calf (late 2017), she lost weight. As in a tremendous amount of weight. Did not bounce back no matter how many groceries we poured into her. Of course we called the vet out. We weaned the calf off. We quit milking. The vet did tests, more tests – finally called with some results. Anemic. Uber high fibrinogen levels. Chronic infection of some sort. Long and short – she was pretty certain Daisy had cancer – but that was as close as she could come to a diagnosis.

Even good farmers lose livestock. Predation. Illness. Freak accidents. Didn’t make us feel any better about it…..I stood leaning on the fence watching Daisy do what Daisy always does….slowly march across the field hoovering up grass, head down. Content. Just painfully thin.

“Let’s” I said to Bruce “just let her be a cow for the summer. As long as food and water are going in one end, and ultimately coming out the other, as long as her personality stays the same, she’s not showing signs of being painful….if any of that changes, we’ll do what we have to do – and let’s hope she gains some weight’.

So. We bought another pregnant jersey heifer. She came to us at fourteen months old, off of community pasture – Bruce set about the long road of training her to be a friendly well mannered milk cow.

Come fall, Daisy – unbelievably, looked like a million dollar cow. We sent her off to be bred – you can’t have a cow as a pet only. It’s the reality of it.

cheddar in various stages of drying

That’s why we have two milk cows. They have both had healthy calves, they both are in prime physical condition, both healthy….we have no clue what the problem with Daisy was. Maybe burn out. Maybe calories in calories out weren’t balancing properly that year. I suppose it would make sense to sell one – two of us don’t need eight plus gallons of milk a day. But the thing is – you get attached to these animals, and you can’t imagine sending them off with a stranger for no amount of money.

Trying to put a positive spin on things….I have discovered there is an advantage to having that much milk on hand. For as long as we only had one cow, I was much disinclined to experiment with my cheese making. When the milk coming in the door is finite – you really don’t want to have a batch end up in the bin. Therefore I’ve always stuck with the quick simple can’t mess it up cheeses. Cream cheese, a quick pressed farm cheese that slices, shreds, melts but has little in flavour, ricotta…..mozzarella. This year, first calf on the ground – I started much the same way. Second calf on the ground I realized that I was going to have to jump in with both feet – small batch cheese making is an exercise in futility when you have that much milk coming in the door every day.

Bruce, quite rightly understood that no amount of ‘I love you honey’s’ was going to get him any cheese with that kind of volume coming in the door if I had to stand in front of a wood cook stove all summer to make it. We now have a nice propane stove in the kitchen. I went to a commercial kitchen supply store and bought a stainless pot that holds six gallons of milk (yes it’s bloody heavy when full) and some commercial utensils that actually reach the bottom of the pot.

So without putting everybody to sleep (I hope), I have – I think – finally hit my stride. Things I have learned? All cheese recipes are designed for pasteurized milk – I have raw milk – yes there are differences. All cheese recipes are written for two or less gallons of milk – I want to use a minimum of six (couldn’t find a bigger pot 😆, nor could I probably lift a bigger pot). None of my cheese starter/culture/rennet suppliers have a standardized system of use or labelling. Some sell premeasured packets, some sell large vat inoculations with instructions you have to calculate down to six gallon batches. They all have different names for the stuff. All cheese recipes call for single strength rennet – I can only buy double strength …. you get the picture. As an example – to ‘ripen’ six gallons, I can use a quart and a half of buttermilk or 1/4 teaspoon of choozit4001 or three packages of C101 and accomplish the same thing. Or – I could use none of it – raw milk will naturally ripen – but because lactation curves/available forage/time of year……its easier to simply add the culture and level the playing field. In a nod to the fact I’m using raw milk, I leave three gallons out overnight to ripen, and add three gallons from the fridge the next day – but still use the culture.

Some waxed, some coated with an anti-microbial coating, some drying

None of these things are all that critical when you’re only making a couple of pounds of cream cheese say, or ten batches of ricotta (for which you only need household vinegar). But when you finally get the nerve to get on the cheddar train – all bets are off.

The first attempt – I used an online recipe for ‘cheese making in the 1800’s’ or something like that. I don’t have a ‘cheese cave’ or anything close to a controlled environment for aging. This recipe promised a shelf aged Cheddar like grate-able cheese that could simply live on a salted shelf. Well I suppose it could have…..but after a week it was more of a door stop than anything resembling cheese – I would have had to use an axe to break through it. That effort got marched out to the dogs – I mean their canines can crush bones right?

My second attempt using an online ‘home recipe’ turned into a rather sad thick rined effort that was obviously not going to turn into anything decently edible. That – got marched out to the pigs ‘heeerre piggy piggies!’

Third batch from ‘New England Cheesemaking’ – I carefully wrote down every convoluted detailed step. I’m now on a mission – I get to the ‘break the curd mass into walnut sized pieces and salt at a rate of….’ and found myself trying to tear up something with the remarkable consistency of a tire. Goodyear should have stopped by – I would have shared the invention. I gamely plowed on and got it into the press – knowing it would likely not knit together. It didn’t. ‘Heeerre piggy piggies!’

You now know the advantage to having two cows. In three days I have pitched out the door – eighteen gallons of milk. The pigs are happy, me – not so much. But no worries – I’ll have six more gallons to throw out tomorrow! 🤪

I’ve always said – cheesemaking is a carefully calculated series of serious food safety violations that result in a pretty tasty end product. But I’m starting to doubt that.

Try number four – Rodales Food Center – Stocking Up book (gifted to me at least thirty years ago by a good friend). A recipe called ‘Dave’s Cheese’ presumably created by a guy named Dave…..

Okay jackpot. It works. It works the same every single time I make it. Every. Single. Time. Now I can make one of these a day – but I don’t – sometimes I stand at the stove and make batch after batch of ricotta because I’m tired of standing at the stove and making batch after batch of cheddar. Mostly I get tired of standing at the sink washing up the jars and the pots and the churn and and….but it’s nice to be able to waltz past the dairy section in the grocery store and not have to buy any dairy.

Five days in on a blue cheese

Of course now that I’ve cracked the cheddar code – I’m moving along – blue cheese. I can see many of you cringing 😖 and some of you wondering exactly where I live so you can come try it. I happen to love the stuff – and well, it’s another way to use up six gallons of milk. I’ve managed to create a mini aging/high humidity setup by using a large plastic tote and changing out bowls of warm water twice a day. Blue cheese needs 95% humidity. Oddly – this has turned out to be easier than cheddar. Next up? Probably Parmesan – I’ll let you know. 😊

Well – butter 😊

Butter – butter is easy. Until you decide you’re tired of scooping two cows worth of cream a day off of the milk with a spoon and finally cave in a score a really well priced solid old cream separator. And then remember you have Jersey cows – who happily produce cream you can almost spread with a butter knife. It is suggested that for Jersey milk, you remove one of the cones from the separator. I did. The cream stays liquid (ish) until you refrigerate it. I put cream in cream bottles for my coffee – to get it into my coffee I now have to stand there smacking the bottom of the bottle like its ketchup. First world problem I know….

When I make butter, I simply toss the cream in the churn, plug it in and walk away. It’s done when the churn grinds to a halt – Jersey cream. When I churn cream from the milk I’ve run through the separator- the churn grinds to a halt in half the time – and I’m left with a mass of butter coated with cream it can’t incorporate.

It’s like mixing up a batch of concrete with the right ratios – then at the last minute pitching in an extra bag of Portland. Or trying to add four extra cups of flour to a batch of bread (trying to create a visual here 😉).

I suppose I could add some milk to the cream….but that kind of negates the purpose of the cream separator….or I could go back to scooping the cream off with a spoon. Which I’ve done. I need to think on it some more.

Technically, I only traded one job for another….scoop cream or dismantle and wash the separator. Bruce has done the same by scoring a used surge milker that only needed a small repair. He is not in from the barn any sooner – by the time he’s run the sanitizer through the equipment after milking, he’s used up the same amount of time as he would have spent hand milking. Still – what exactly would we do with our time if we didn’t have cows?

Now some of you are wondering – what in the ever loving hell do you need all that cheese and butter for?

Commercial dairy cows are bred back within a few months (or sooner) after calving. They get a two month ‘dry up’ before they drop another calf and start putting into the system again. Many commercial dairy cows are ‘out of the system’ in less than three cycles. Our cows are not machines….we might have them bred this October for a June calf (they will be dried up come December/January, or we might wait until next March and have them bred. So come December/January the milk train stops. All I can stock up until then will get us through until they milk again 😊.

So there you have it – from the files of ‘what have I been up to…

I’ll touch base again when I have something new to report 😊

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Longevity (or ducking flying bread dough)


img_2726

Well, I needed an attention grabbing headline 🙂

I might have been eight….maybe nine, when my mom taught me how to make bread.  I don’t really think she thought it something I needed to know how to do – rather, she was sick to death of making bread – every single Saturday, rain or shine, whether she felt like it or not.  Mom was an ‘outdoors’ woman, nothing put her in a mood like having to stand inside kneading bread while looking outside, especially if the weather was nice.  As a result, it wasn’t uncommon to have a collection of odd shaped loaves, small dense loaves, oversized can’t fit in the toaster loaves…. proofing dough flowing over the big bowl onto the counter when she got sidetracked.  She muttered a lot under her breath while kneading, and on one particular occasion I wandered through the kitchen just in time to duck a loaf sized blob of sticky uncooperative dough as it sailed over my head, ricocheted off the fridge and stuck fast to the spanish stucco wall we had in our kitchen.  Apparently she’d had enough – and I do  believe it was about that time I started making bread (I didn’t mind, it got me out of barn shovelling chores and it got mom out of the house).

Bruce and I have been on this piece of property for fifteen years now, not so long as many many homestead/farmers I follow on their blogs by any stretch – but long enough to ‘look back’ at what our ideas/ideals were when we came here, and long enough to see how many of those ideas/ideals have changed – or not.

‘Longevity’ has become our new catch-phrase.  How can we continue to be here, do what we want to do, stay healthy and productive – for the next ten years? Or twenty? Or thirty? When I mention this to someone, they look at me in confusion – “longevity? You guys aren’t even that old!”  But that’s the point….we don’t want to wait until we’re ‘old’ to suddenly realise we need to make changes, or that we can no longer do things.  My neighbour to the south has been ‘getting the place ready’ for three years now – they’re going to sell.  Neighbour lady simply can’t manage the place by herself and her husband isn’t well enough to participate in much more than firing up the tractor and moving some snow.  Decisions they should have made years ago, weren’t made….there was always ‘tomorrow’ to fix things, or change things….and now they scramble.  I do not want to be neighbour to the south. 

I used to be very black and white in my homestead ideals.  Kerosene lights (we still use them), no electric appliances (no stove, washer, dryer, microwave…..etc.) Now, I have to decide if I’m being stubborn and foolish, or just stubborn, or just foolish.

Long and short – some things have changed; I now make my bread in a commercial stand mixer. Toss the ingredients in, attach dough hook, hit the start button and walk away for fifteen minutes. I really like it. Yes – it’s only fifteen minutes – but it’s fifteen minutes I can do something else, and as an added bonus I’ve been able to add more whole wheat flour (by double) and get really nice loaves. Like my mom, bread making had become a chore, my carpal tunnel acts up, my hands ache. A mixer means longevity.

Other news: the bees made it through the winter. I think our coldest stretch hit -35 C, all of February was bitter and miserable. The first plus 15 day in March I went and checked- they still had food, I added some frames of honey from last season, pulled some empty frames, swapped brood boxes (saw some larvae and capped brood) added some pollen patty, put it all back together with the insulation box on top and left the insulation blanket on. We still have cold overnight temps – but during the day I see them racing in and out of the hive – somebody has dandelions, they’re bringing in pollen. I’m relived – not everyone in the bee club had their hives survive.

New life on the farm….25 meat birds, two weaner pigs (Thelma and Louise 🤣), and one fat happy calf born February 21 to our new milker. We still have Daisy – she is due towards the end of May. She is big as a house – I keep looking at her and thinking ‘please don’t let there be twins in that cow’. Buttercup was purchased last year as a pregnant 14 month old range heifer…..Bruce has done a stellar job working with her – she comes in for milking no problem, very mellow girl, excellent mom.

This year we have reconfigured the living quarters for the pigs. Pigs are never fun to load come ‘trip to the slaughterhouse day’. We’ve always walked them through the barn and into the stock trailer – bribing them in with garden goodies – usually it goes smoother than we expect. Last year – not so much. No way, no how were those two pigs getting in that trailer. Thirty minutes or more into the effort they were stressed, we were stressed, the slaughterhouse was waiting….I finally marched into the trailer, turned and grabbed the nearest rear leg and found myself on the south end of a squealing flailing north bound butcher weight hog – pulling for all I was worth, knowing if I lost my grip there would be no second chance. I got him in – his buddy figured following him in might be a better option, Bruce slammed the door. I lay there trying to catch my breath, covered in all manner of ‘stuff ‘ and figured there had to be a better way.

This year it dawned on me – we don’t need our stock trailer until October. The pigs go to slaughter in August. We parked the trailer alongside our hay lean-to, built a decent sized pen around it – they eat in the trailer, sleep in the trailer, spend their days rooting up the pen. If they get spooked – they run into the trailer. Happy dance! This year I get to close the door and drive away pigs in tow. Longevity.

Our barn project got done by the end of October….we now have a solid place to bring the girls in to milk, windows in to let the layers get some light in the winter, a new floor for the layers, ducting from the wood stove was moved to circulate heat better in the winter. I’m actually really simplifying- it was an enormous project that took up most of the summer and well into the cold months. Bruce no longer has to milk outside in the bitter cold. Longevity.

Come December we decided to tackle the bathroom – which has never progressed beyond minimum functionality- tore out the old derelict tub and installed a shower, finished the walls and ceiling, managed a few coats of paint and some flooring before we had to call it quits. Once you’re milking all house projects stop. The shower necessitated a trip to Edmonton at Christmas. We needed a unit that came in sections, that we could alter to fit the lower ceiling we have – none to be had here. So despite the fact that I haven’t done Christmas in years – there was no avoiding it 😂. Despite myself it was good to spend time with family. I actually stood still for a picture (generally I duck out when I see a camera), but it was worth it. Myself, daughter, her hubby and son, my son and daughter, his ex wife, my ex husband. Goes to show that all family regardless of circumstances can get along fabulously.

Hoping for warmer weather soon. By the third weekend in May we plant the gardens. So far I have my doubts, I haven’t even uncovered the garden beds yet. Still bits of snow and ice about. On the good side – the slow melt meant less flooding issues, less mud.

On a different note. On a nearly weekly basis I get asked questions about farming, livestock, homesteading, gardening. It’s difficult to properly answer someone when you’ve three minutes in the line up at the checkout (or wherever) and some questions come up on a regular basis. My next series of posts are going to address some of the most common queries – the answers won’t be a one size fits all format, but rather a general amount of information those who care to read, can use to make decisions. Most of the questions I’ll be dealing with are from people who want to start farming/homesteading/raising – growing food. Some of it I have covered in previous posts – but it’s a chore for people to scroll back and find them.

I’ll ‘try’ to keep on top of this…. and get a decent series posted.

Some of my bees clustering on the underside of the candy board.

Two hours old 🙂

Snowshoes – a good thing.

  

 

 

 

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Un-quiet but fine.


It’s been a hectic year so far….we just spent our Thanksgiving long weekend tackling the last of the big outside projects – winter can hit anytime now.

The last of the small wood is tucked under the porch – this does not need to be split, the big splitting wood is stashed under the overhangs on the barns. We generally burn ten cords a year – I always breathe a sigh of relief when it’s all in.

Managed to squeeze in a quick batch of soap – still working after all these years on technique- but it’s soap and it cleans 😊

Managed some beautiful tallow from our steer we put in the freezer….turned some into candles, will make soap with some, and likely grind some for steamed puddings.

Cured some egg yolks – despite downsizing our layer count, we still have too many eggs.

Canning canning canning. This batch – beef stock.

That is about half a batch – we go through a lot of beef stock (and chicken stock)

Despite the late spring, then the lack of rain, then the days of forest fire smoke – the garden produced very well.

This photo was taken around nine o’clock in the morning….yes – smoke can make it seem like night time.

More garden bounty

Had a get together (the first one in White Rock, this one in Penticton) with family and friends to remember my mom. She’s now next to my brother (my dads ashes – I spread at the top of a mountain many years ago).

I sometimes wonder at the purpose – why am I still here? This sometimes muddles my mind – probably more than it should – trying to find some meaning to it.

The arrival of our new Jersey heifer – due in February. Daisy- our other jersey was off being bred and is now home – due in April. Bruce has determined running out of butter/milk, possibly cheese during dry up can now be avoided 😂. I say ‘have fun milking two cows honey’.

Hay for the cow (we buy it, not grow it).

Bruce gutted a room at the end of the barn and purpose built a room for all my bee ‘stuff’. It’s amazing how much bee stuff one can accumulate without even trying 😊

A trip to my visit my daughter near Edmonton – canola crops always bring back memories.

Another trip to catch up with my son – camped here as it was close to where he picks up his logging truck for work.

Sahra, Sam. A sad but inevitable day as we said goodbye to the drafts. They are in their prime – Bruce’s knee has never healed well enough to work them on foot. They need work – a friend found them a new home where they’ll have work every day. This was very hard on Bruce…..but he wanted more for them than to stand about in a field being pasture potato’s.

What I do when I’m sitting still 😉

This year was a lot about rebuilding….rebuilding things on the farm that were sorely in need of repair – the chicken barn, and at the moment the floor in the big barn. Rebuilding my health – physically (managed to lose a very much extra 25 pounds) by simply being able to get outside to do physical things, not to mention that being at home I can’t graze on junk because there simply isn’t any to graze on. Mentally – I still find it a bit of a struggle to be at home – I’ve always identified myself by my job and how much money I can earn. I’ve had to learn to put value on the abilities I have on the farm. Work in progress I think. My own cross to bear – we’re budget minded enough we can do fine on Bruce’s income alone. Still – it’s odd not to be depositing a pay check.

I’ve always had an un-quiet mind…..have spent many years thinking I needed to fix it. Slowly coming to realize that my un-quiet mind makes me who I am….and I’m fine with that 😊

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Bees 🐝 bees 🐝 bees 🐝


I’ve wanted to get into beekeeping for years – in fact bought a book on beekeeping many years ago, read it – and promptly realized there weren’t enough hours in a day to work at work, work on the farm, and keep bees.

Well. I now have bees. I took a two day ‘beginner beekeeping course’ and have since discovered – I know nothing about bees. Part of the issue is that it’s impossible to teach a room full of ‘new-bees’ anything other than the most rudimentary basics. I took notes. I asked questions. I ordered and read several books. The rest of the issue – anybody I’ve talked to who has kept bees for any length of time, flat out told me – you can spend a lifetime with bees and still have things to learn. They’re right. 😊

The above picture is a testament to my complete lack of knowledge; I’m standing there in my brand new bee suit, with my brand new hive set up and a package of brand new (to me) bees – that have come all the way from New Zealand with a three day delay because they missed the plane. We were told how to ‘install ‘ our package….sort of. ‘Remove the screen, remove the queen cage, flip the tube over, give it a sharp whack on the hive (the bees will all fall into the hive), install the queen, put the cover on the hive and leave it for a week before you check to see if the queen is out.

Easy. Sure. I understood the queen would come in a cage with a candy plug – and the bees would eat their way through the plug and set her free – in theory being familiar enough with her by then they wouldn’t outright kill her….I wavered between putting her on top of the frames, on the bottom of the box, or using an elastic to sandwich her to a frame of foundation. I chose the elastic method and had everything ready. So I unstaple the plastic screen and proceed to pull out the strip the queen cage is attached to – and pull, and pull, and pull and wonder why the hell the instructor failed to mention the ‘plastic strip’ the queen was attached to was three feet long…..

You can see I am not holding the strip over the hive like I should be (I’m still looking for the queen cage) and aside from that – the bees are not happy. They’re hungry. They’ve been crammed in a tube for days, they’re suffering from jet lag…..even better – I find the queen cage at the end of the strip – and there’s no candy plug…..it’s just a cage with a teeny cork – I have a vague recall of the instructor saying something about sticking a piece of mini marshmallow in after I remove the cork. Huh? I don’t have any mini marshmallows – It doesn’t seem a good time to go buy some – why on earth is there no candy plug? I hand the cage off to Bruce so he can remove the cork; put your finger over the hole when you get the cork out or she will fly away! I shake the strip free of bees (into the hive), I’m starting to rush now- the bees are even less happy than they were a few minutes prior – and snatch the cork free cage with the queen, take a quick look to make sure she has wings and all of her legs and two antennae, and stick her under the elastic and quickly sandwich another frame in next to her. I then snatch up the tube and whack it on the hive and watch a mass of pissed off bees land with a thud in the bottom of the hive. I am now surrounded by a cloud of angry bees and get stung on the hand – I had this idea that I would wear sturdy nitrile gloves for more dexterity – but the top of them is a stretchy fabric of sorts – sure enough one of the girls gets her little bee feet stuck in the fabric and promptly jams her stinger in the back of my hand. I ignore it, quickly drop in the rest of the frames, pop on the inner cover and the lid – and finally remember to breathe. I start picking up my ‘stuff’ – Bruce picks up the tube and informs me that it’s still half full of bees.

I look at the tube. I look at the hive cover. I vaguely recall the instructor saying ‘just leave the tube in front of the hive so the stragglers will find their way into the box’. I decide ‘stragglers’ and ‘half a tube full of bees’ are one and the same – place it in front of the hive entrance and we exit stage left. We are surrounded by a large cloud of angry buzzing, being carpet bombed by days worth of bee poop they seem to have saved up for just such an occasion……or possibly they didn’t like the blinding glare off of my bee suit – we do several circuits around our large yard stopping several times to carefully brush bees off of each other and finally make it into the house.

Bruce declares the installation event ‘a little nervy’. He doesn’t react well to stings…..but being a fair man and no doubt recalling I milked his cow for an entire year because he couldn’t figure out how to milk her…..has decided that stings or no – it is his turn to support me in my decision to keep bees 😁

The hive is about thirty feet from my house – by choice. I’m able to keep an eye on it, I have an electric fence around it – to keep my dogs out – and more importantly, bears. Bears are common around here – they’re brave, they get hungry, they sometimes couldn’t care less about an electric fence. They know bee brood and honey when they smell it. If they’re stuck digging up your garden, so be it – but if they’ve a chance to knock over a hive or two – even better. My dogs will definitely warn me of a bear visit – I have ‘bear bangers’, and a capable rifle along with a bear tag. Bees are not considered ‘livestock’ where I live…..I can legally dispatch a bear if it’s killing my cow say….but not if it’s tearing apart and eating my bees. Hence the bear tag. I’m a fan of being legal – and keeping my bees.

The following morning I see the bees are still ‘in bed’. I know they won’t fly until it’s at least plus 15C. It’s plus 5C – I grab my stethoscope (I use it for the cow should I need to listen to the rumen) and lurk out to the yard to have a listen to the hive. Reasonably quiet – I picture them in a ball in the middle trying to stay warm. I notice the tube is empty, (hallelujah) see a half dozen bees dead on the landing board – think I should bring them into the house – what better chance to really get a close up look at my new project? I lay them out in a row on the kitchen table and wander off to find a magnifying glass – finally returning to see that the bees aren’t actually dead – they were simply too damn cold to do anything other than play at being dead. They are slowly marching around the table, stretching the kinks out I suppose – I fetch them all up and rather hurriedly take them back outside to the hive. 🙄

My instructor emails me to ask if I got the bees installed and did I manage to get the queen in the box. I respond rather casually that yes – all went fine 😂, excepting for the fact that I had expected the queen cage would have a candy plug – and it did not – and I did not have any mini marshmallows on hand, so I simply pulled the cork and popped her in. I could totally picture the poor man rolling his eyes and wondering at my intelligence….

I inspect in a week….remove the vacant queen cage, pull frames and look for eggs….try and find the queen. Bruce points out that in direct contrast to the installation, the bees are remarkably calm – he removes his gloves and helpfully takes lots of pictures. They are storing nectar, capping some, drawing out comb, bringing in pollen. I see no eggs, no queen. Only after the fact when I have tossed some pictures to my daughters phone – do I get to see the queen. She sends the above photo back – “the long fat one to the left of center mom”. Relief. I didn’t screw up badly enough to accidentally lose/kill/maim the queen.

I email the instructor – I mention I did not see any eggs, nor have I seen any ‘mating flights’, I forward the picture. He tells me that it looks like my queen, she is already mated when I get her so will not see any mating flights (that wasn’t covered in the course), and gives me tips on how to ‘see’ eggs. It’s bothering me that I did not paint the queen – and I’m in a bit of a panic on each inspection when I don’t find her, and worried to death I’ll accidentally crush her moving frames/lids/covers….

Regardless, I finally see eggs, larva and empty brood cells that tell me bees are emerging and in theory things are going to plan.

Drone frame with capped drone and larva.

I trap drone in an effort to control the varroa mite population. Varroa is the devil – they will overwhelm your hive and ultimately, if left unchecked – will kill your hive by spreading disease – they are vectors for all kinds of nasty stuff. It’s a hard fact, that to raise bees today – you must also understand you are raising mites. In a fluffy bunny tree hugger world – there would be no mites- but that’s not the bee world any more. Drone frame trapping is one weapon in an arsenal to control mites. Drone cells are larger than worker cells, the bees draw the comb out a good distance and the queen picks those cells to lay drone eggs in (not that she won’t drop a few elsewhere). The theory is that the mites prefer to lay their eggs in drone cells (they scooch in just before they are capped) because drone take the longest to emerge.

In theory when the drone cells are capped – you pull the frame and pop in a new one. The frame you pull gets popped into the freezer for (I do four days) and the mites and eggs are killed.

At this point you can put it back into the hive and the bees will clean it up – but I’m not fond of the idea I’m making my bees stop what they were doing to mess with a system I’ve put into place – I actually scrape the entire thing clean – toss the big fat drone larva to the chickens (they can spot protein a mile away) and scrub the frame clean, wax it for the next swap out.

Does this eliminate the mite population? No. But by trapping drone you are trapping mites and ultimately buying time before you have to treat your hive with miticides (or whatever you decide to treat with). You can’t treat for mites while the bees are filling supers with honey – unless you intend to leave all the honey for the bees. Some treatments are hard on brood or hard on bees. Anything ‘natural’ I can do, I do. The queen already being mated dictates that there is no need for drones, and come fall they get their lazy unhelpful arses kicked out of the hive anyway.

I’ve had bee people tell me that working with bees is very zen. Totally fascinating.

I’m not there yet. Each any every time I inspect the hive I obsess over the details, the order in which I’m going to do things, making sure I’m being quick, smooth, efficient- minimizing my disruption. I feel my inspections are akin to a home invasion – the bees helplessly stand by while I rearrange things and poke about – brushing some bees off to get a closer look when they’re in the middle of cleaning out a cell….once I’m out of the yard I’m sure it takes them a day to put things right, and I imagine there’s some irritation. I’m grateful I have calm bees – for the most part – they ignore me.

The hive population is increasing faster than I can believe. (The comb on top of the frame is burr comb – built when the bees decide they don’t like the extra space between the frames and the inner cover which I chose to leave flipped over in the ‘winter’ position all summer so they would have an upper entrance). I send a few pics to the instructor. He tells me my queen (which I still haven’t seen) has a spotty brood pattern and to keep an eye on that. I wonder what I’m supposed to do if she doesn’t get it together…..off with her head and replace her? Give her a good stern talking to? Considering I can’t find her – I decide it’s moot for the moment.

At some point my brood chamber is packed full to boiling over. I add a second box – they fill that in next to no time flat. Instructor man tells me to keep an eye out for swarm cells. Specifically he says ‘tip the bottom box up and look along the bottom of the frames for swarm cells or queen cups. I’m not thrilled with the idea of tipping boxes up and stooping down to look for cells (I had a vision of accidentally losing my grip on the boxes while looking for cells) – I set my phone on video and shove my arm under the screened bottom board and pan across the entire bottom. I’m relieved to see no cells no cups.

Next inspection Queen Cups!!! On the top of the frame – not the bottom…..I message out for some advice, post the pic on the local Beekeeper’s FB page. The responses are fast and furious and incredibly varied –

your queen is dead – those are emergency cells!

– crush them – you don’t want more queens

– hmmmm – I think your bees have voted the queen out. (I didn’t know bees were that political)

-why are they on the top of the frame?

And so on. What to do? The ‘general consensus’ (if there is such a thing among Beekeeper’s) wait.

Wait for what I’m not clear – but I wait.

Next inspection – they are gone. I have no idea what that means…..possibly they decided to rearrange the furniture and decided it looked better the way it was in the first place. Maybe they were trying to scare the queen into stopping that spotty brood pattern nonsense. Maybe they were just messing with me 🤔

Before I know it the nectar flow is in full swing – my instructor told me so – I wouldn’t know a good nectar flow if you hit me on the head with it (yet). I slapped on a honey super and got ready for the soon to be glut of honey.

I wait. I check. I wait some more.

My supers are of the ‘medium’ size (shorter than the ‘deeps’ for ease of manipulation- they’re damn heavy when full). My supers also have the plastic foundation in them, as opposed to the wax – the theory being, plastic foundation hold up better to extraction. I’m going with the ‘flow’ so to speak – I can’t even find wax medium foundation to buy. Plastic it is.

I wait some more. Each time I peek under the cover there are no bees in the honey super. There is no comb being drawn out – no nectar being stored.

Initially I decide the bees will move up when they’re good and ready – but finally, on an inspection, I realize they are jamming nectar and capping honey in every conceivable spot they can – both brood boxes are full, they’re backfilling brood cells, the invisible queen is running out of places to lay eggs, they’re even building comb between the bars of the wax foundation and the plastic and filling that – they will not use the plastic foundation. I make a corporate decision and grab a deep full of wax foundation and swap it out, move two frames of honey and two frames of brood from the bottom box, plug them into the new box and damn the torpedoes. I do not want a swarm in August. Swarms happen for a few reasons – but sheer hive congestion is one of them. I want them to have space, I know they won’t abandon brood – in effect I’m tricking them into the deep super.

I give them a few weeks (the remainder of the nectar flow season really) and worry about robbing – we’ve had the worst year ever for yellow jackets and hornets….I’ve tried trapping them with everything and anything to no avail. They build big nests above me and massive complexes under grass and hay and in the ground. I’ve been stung three times by these wretched things – each time my reaction is getting worse. I’m avoiding piles of hay, tall grass – I’ve a permanent kink in my neck from looking up for nests. Mostly I’m eyeballing my hive and watching to see if they’re intending to start robbing my bees. I have Bruce build me a robbing screen.

Finally – time to check for progress – the deep is nearly full – surprising to me considering the lateness of the season when I put it on. Now I need a plan. I decide on the next visit I will do a sugar roll test to check my mite load so I can decide on a treatment, I will move the brood from the honey deep down to the first box, install my bee escape so I can return in a day or so to steal the remains honey and not have to deal with bees.

Hah! Not. I don’t know who comes up with the weather forecast – but Murphy’s law dictated that the inspect morning was minus 6C. Once again (as I have all season) I feel like I’m racing the horse to the barn door and hoping to slam it shut before he gets out. I toss my carefully laid double inspection plan out the window and come up with a ‘one size fits all’ plan, wait anxiously until I see plus 18C , watch some rain clouds roll in and figure it’s now or never.

The smoker gets lit, the hive comes apart. The brood gets moved to the bottom box once I make room. I cram two frames of honey in the second box once I make room. I decide whether I see mites or not – I’m sure I have mites – and drop two strips of Apivar in each box.

There are several ways to treat mites, some are temperature sensitive, some not, some easy, some require a certain amount of skill. I have all the equipment to do an oxalic acid fumigation- I’ve also never used it – and after hearing several stories about hives being set alight with the fuming wand and bees roasting themselves on said wand….I thought it best to leave that method alone until someone can show me how it’s done. I do not want to foolishly burn my hive down and cremate all the bees in it. I could have also done an oxalic dribble – but again – have not practiced it, and thought it best to simply stick with what I know.

So – I stack the two brood boxes, pop on an inner cover that I’ve modified to accommodate two jars of syrup as I understand I now have to feed them so as they do not use up their stores before winter. I now set about stealing six frames of honey from my third deep – that is still full of bees I need to coax into the two brood boxes. Gong show ensues – frame by frame I walk to the front of the hive, shake the bees off the honey, brush the stubborn ones off as I’m walking around back of the hive to pop them into a big tub with a lid. Things start to get a little hectic – I keep my focus until I have all the honey in the tub and finally shake the box itself off and place it over my syrup feeders. On goes the cover – done. I cart everything out of the yard and do several circuits around the back yard until the last of the bees decides I’m no longer of interest and return to the hive. I watch from the house – it takes about three hours before they’ve all squeezed themselves back into the hive – success. I think.

I think the girls did a beautiful job 😊

I froze a frame for the bees in the spring. These are also in the freezer until I decide how many I might set aside for them and how many I feel like extracting by hand. I have an extractor – but it’s not worth the mess for such a few frames.

The trick now….is to get them through the bitter cold of winter – next trick – getting through the crazy temperature fluctuations of spring. To that end I’m making candy boards and an insulation box. I’m wrapping the hive with a ‘bee cozy’ (no kidding, that’s what they are called 😄

Winter/spring is tough on bees – especially in the north. Every year stories abound of lost hives – starvation, moisture, mites….other diseases. I’ve done the best I can to date – my goal was to have a strong hive going into winter. I’m hoping I’ve accomplished that.

I will keep you in the loop ☺️

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In Charge


I’ve a piano in my house. (I may have mentioned this previously)

Heintzman & Co. Built in 1928. For the last fifteen years it lived in my moms house, prior to that it spent its entire life in my grandmothers living room.

My nephew Eli was next in line for this piano – but at twenty two years old, he has nowhere for it to live at the moment. Pianos don’t like to be moved – and nobody likes to move pianos – mention you need help moving one and people tend to flee like rats off a sinking ship. It was decided then, that Bruce and I would move it to our house – on the premise that it will live here until I’m gone; for one thing, I’ll be damned if I’m moving it again – and for another – I literally had to throw out a desk and an old recliner to make it fit in my wee house.

We ‘think’ it weighs between six and eight hundred pounds. Doctor Google says so – that and the fact that Bruce and I, familiar with moving bloody heavy things – discovered on the first ‘I’ll lift this end while you shove the skid underneath’ – nothing happened. We both stood there dumbfounded, more than slightly alarmed as we had a two hour window to get this thing out the door, down a hundred plus feet of sidewalk with steps, around a corner, down more steps and into our stock trailer. The time limit was due to the fact that we then had to get to moms storage and load all of that stuff around the piano, before the storage closed for the night – then turn around for the nine plus hour trip back home.

I stood outside the door for a few minutes hoping for a random stranger I could maybe snag for help – it was like the whole complex knew it was piano moving day – there were no random strangers to be had.

Plan B. Tilt instead of lift and try not to let it fall over. Onto the skid. Out the door. Pull, shove, slide, huff puff and swear, repeat until we’re down to the road. Back truck in and jackknife stock trailer up to piano – block the road. One would think blocking the road would produce some random stranger type help – but no, all random strangers were content to sit in their Beemer/Lexus/Acura’s staring at their cell phones while pretending the road was not blocked with piano moving farmers who by now were completely out of ‘oomph’ and almost out of good swear words.

Turns out shoving a piano ‘down’ steps is easier than lifting a piano ‘up’ into a stock trailer. Defeat was staring us in the face – I actually considered leaving the thing where it stood – wondered how many days it would take for some irritated resident to phone strata and lodge a complaint of an abandoned piano, and how many more days the ‘who’s going to pay to move the abandoned piano’ bickering would go on at the next strata council meeting.

Finally – two young women who decided they might need to get their car out before we got the piano loaded, offered to help. Bruce managed to lift it one more time and the three of us managed to shove it into the trailer. Bruce ratchet strapped it to the divider panel and we were off to the storage unit to load before closing.

We had intended for this to be a twenty four hour round trip, allowing for icy snow covered roads and some serious pea soup fog on the way back, two short naps on the side of the road when we could actually see to pull over, one short slide away when Bruce – sound asleep – managed to move his legs and accidentally knock the gear shift into neutral, and one stop for truly awful fast food (cringe) – we made it home ten minutes past our goal. 

The piano got to live in the stock trailer for another three days – while we decided where exactly it was going to fit, and exactly how much ‘help’ we might need to get it into the house. Turns out the dead of winter snow/ice situation worked in our favour – we mostly ‘skated’ the thing right into its new home.

We have wood heat and next to no humidity in the house – my moms house was a stones throw from the ocean – I opened the thing up and started stuffing towels into the innards to soak up the glut of moisture that seemed to be leaching out of the workings. I randomly plunked a few keys on occasion and waited ….. and waited….until sure enough a month or so later it was horribly out of tune. Called a piano tuner guy – turned out to be a young fellow in is twenties who had the thing apart in a heartbeat and spent a solid three hours tweaking it back to life, then sitting down to play something fabulous before making me a re-tune appointment in July.

So the piano sits. I avoid it – but I’m not sure why. I haven’t touched a piano since I was probably eight years old…..I was the typical recalcitrant child that tried everything and anything to get out of piano lessons. I have long since forgotten (or perhaps blocked out) how to read music. There are members of my family that are/were natural musicians – I am not one of them. I fall somewhere in the if I practice and practice and practice I could play piano group. On a random day I decide to fish through all of my moms sheet music. Nope. Might as well be written in Greek. On another random day I download ‘piano for beginners’ onto my kindle and give that a whirl. Ah. Now I remember – it was the tedium of scales and endless repetition of ‘Yankee Doodle’ that had me longing to be anywhere but sitting at a piano.

I let the piano sit some more. There are more important things to do than fool around trying to play the piano – aren’t there?

It takes another month of doing all of the other things I need to do – to realize what I’m up to – I am avoiding the piano because I am still in the habit of thinking that’s if it’s not important to the household, or the farm, or the job…..then it’s not important at all.

I remind myself ‘I am in charge of my life now’.

I drive into town and grab a big fat book of piano classics and find on page 42 a piece I am familiar with by ear – one that’s full of sharps, double sharps, flats, naturals and every other goofy symbol I don’t recognize – and once home park my arse at the kitchen table and set about teaching myself to read music.

Progress? Reasonable. I can play the entire piece and only slightly butcher it. Am I going to become an accomplished pianist? Hardly. But that’s not the point – the point is, I’m learning to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – and I’m not feeling guilty about it. That’s a good place to be for me. 😊

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