Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Maybe not the warmest or most luxuriously warm dry summer, but the sun has provided some significant contributions in photosynthesis. The harvest begins with rhubarb I think then we go through green onions, radishes, spinach and such, but the work horse of the garden yielded up it's first fruit today.


Cool damp summers sure do produce some wonderful cabbage. Between cabbage and chickens the back bone of the subsistence life is built I think. They are both so incredibly durable. They keep well, they produce in almost any conditions and even if the quality is lacking the quantity isn't usually seriously affected.

This year the cabbage are about as perfect as they come. Now hail? Life in the fast lane...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Grasslands National Park and Val Marie, Saskatchewan

It's a long twelve hour drive across the southern Canadian prairie to get to Val Marie Saskatchewan from our home, but we did it. We got back home in one piece too. Thanks to Ted for holding down the fort at home while we were out and about. I'm always grateful when there is nothing to do when I get back home, but to pick up where I left off. Thanks so much for pitching in to make a few days away from the chickens a possibility. I hope you've gotten your fill of eggs for the next little while at least.

We had a great time with many highlights for our memories. Wallace Stegner's Wolf Willow is my favourite touch stone for this part of the world, but I'm open to challenge on that. I have a deep fondness for this harsh area of the prairie.

Here is a set of images from the tour. The community spirit was remarkable and infectious. A harsh environment that has produced some very warm people.

The last of the prickly pear cactus was blooming. The Wallace cemetery, in The Big Muddy, provided a very close encounter with two golden eagles against a stunning vista of top notch elbow room on a spectacularly clear day.

Snoot found out what it feels like to slam her hand into a pin cushion cactus and I was crying for less restrictions in national parks about pestering the wild life. I saw only one rattle snake and one short horned lizard, but they were both memorable encounters even with a park guide watching me like a hawk. We saw several prong horned antelope and strange view of a mule deer sitting on it's haunches in a coolie that looked like some giant jack rabbit out of scene in Alice in Wonderland.

Everyone from far and wide, but especially town folk were all abuzz about the open mic night at the bar on Saturday night. The place was packed with Park students, workers and locals for a broad range of local talent on display. Our family had a great time with it and performed several songs. Snoot nailed the Weakerthans One Great City and Snoot and I got all of Kathleen Edward's I make the Dough, you get the Glory which was a lot of fun to do in public. I'm a shy guy when it comes down to brass tacks, but I got away with it all for the most part.

I'm going to have to get serious about washing the car. It is covered in canola oil and road grime. Through some areas of Saskatchewan on #18 they were dumping canola oil to keep the dust down on some of the gravel sections. Calcium phosphate is much more of a traditional treatment, but the tanker delivering the juice was very proudly displaying the details for us to understand. I can't get my head around dumping food on the ground when so many go hungry.

We too our pit dog Rose with us. When we got her as a 10 month old dog she could not be in close proximity to us for long without the stress would necessitate the unceremonious dumping of her stomach contents. She was the perfect travel companion. It's so nice to have her settling into adulthood at long last.

The Frenchman River was the life blood of the area. Moisture in a desert is really popular with animals and humans alike. I wish I had taken time to run there, but bike might have been more practical.

Mineral rich deposits were everywhere. Iron soaked rocks from rising organic matter and gypsum which I'd never seen before. It made itself know by sparkling against the sun like glass.

The Larson's were apparently the first to sell land to help build the park. Walking their farmstead was a keen reminder of how harsh the land is. They had build what looked like a smart horse barn into the hillside using the earth as shelter. There was a rabbit in there that was far too tame to believe.

The crew of us atop 70 Mile Butte


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Soft Pretzels

No doubt a few here have heard me pratter on about soft pretzels before. I'm getting closer to my goal. A bit too much egg and not quite enough soda, but I'm getting closer. The stuff sold like hotcakes. Warm and fresh, they were like a good drug of choice.


Friday, July 3, 2009

kickin' chickens

I have kept chickens almost from the time we moved out to the boondocks in 1991. I like to call them my Hereford chickens because of their hardy constitutions. I have an incubator that I use to increase my odds of success over the old fashioned methods of leaving a broody hen with her eggs.

Periodically I'll bring in stock from far and away to infuse some new blood into the genetic equation here, but over all it's been a Darwinian scramble of those that can survive poor housing and cheap feed that have prevailed. Some are even beautiful, at least they are, in my eyes. My favourites are what we call Black Betty. There have been many over the years. They seem a little less bird brained than most.

I've always thought that chickens should be capable of reproducing well, enough given half a chance to do so, on their own, but that hasn't been supported by my experience.

I've quarantined areas of the barn to make them free of cats and other disturbances while trying to encourage various broody hens to hatch out their own clutch. I've marked eggs for hens to commandeer a nest in the coup to help track the progress of a hatch there and after every attempt, I've retreated to my incubator for any reasonable degree of success.

This year my success with the incubator was unprecedented. Given that it never rains, but it pours, today Rose found a hen that had gone AWOL. Rose had likely been keeping tabs on her, if I think back about the dog's behaviour in the past little while. She's a funny dog. I'm really enjoying she has finally graduated from being an adolescent. She's still a terrier, but whatever, life with her is better now.

On my way back from chores at the barn this morning there was a tenacious clucking coming from a place that it's uncommon to hear such a racket. When I went to investigate, there was Rose standing guard at a respectful distance as a hen was hatching out her brood in the tall grass behind the grainery. It's maybe a distance of 100m from the coup. Dangerous indeed, but the Tommy dog has been working much more at night this year than last.


When I got home from deliveries today there were eleven little puff balls following the hen around by the barn. When I went to check the nest there was a late hatch looking a little worse for wear and three duds that didn't make the cut. What a percentage! I wish I could do as well with the incubator.

It seems to me ironic that the bird that hatched these chicks out, is a leghorn variety bird from commercial stock. We have never kept commercial stock, save the Cornish Giants that are butchered in the fall as roasters. Our layers have always been mutts until this year when the commercial layers we bought last year came on line. White eggs! How novel. Heaven knows we've had every other colour. Someone must be paying attention. I'm wholly impressed with this hen's ability to hatch out a brood through a once in twenty year storm that included 80mm of rain. Nice work Henny!


After a bite to eat she rounded up her wee juans and settled back down inside the fenced run, to provide some warmth and safety for the crew.


Unsophisticated simple pleasures. Yum.