Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Khan Academy - free video study guides

What a huge resource for those in need of a little extra help with high school academics! I might have been braver about academics if I had known a place like this to supplement my classroom experience. Maybe not.

It's based on the Open Source model of which I'm on the evangelical side of. I'll take the bazaar over the cathedral every time.

This is a vision of the future. I hope.

Rambling, eggs, spiders and honey mushrooms

The trees are brilliant with fall colours and there has been a large stable high pressure dome parked over us for days. The weather is spectacular. Fall is here and what a fantastic presentation it's provided us this year.

Now back to our regular scheduled programming. Food.

The eggs will soon have pale yolks again as the birds lose access to the greenery. At least they are laying and don't seem to be diminishing in number as some predator or other takes their pound of flesh, literally. I've got 25 in the hen house and I hope most of them make the winter. I think there are enough cockerels to do the job for the girls in the spring. What a year it's been for the wild ones.


PU went picking with the neighbour last Sunday afternoon and came home with mountains of honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea). I dried a lot of them last year. This year we've blanched them and put them in gravy quantities in the freezer. I hope that works out. It's brilliant to have a different spin on the mushroom flavour and texture once in a while.


On the critter front, I watched this tiny little jumping spider attack a fly on the window sill today. It didn't win the battle, but the fly was belly up inside of five minutes so I gather the war was won. Cool beans.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chickens in the freezer, love and life

I could go on for a long time about the joys of the countless worthy reality checks that come with country life. I was first introduced to the dangers and rewards of the rural life at my aunt Rita and uncle Bob's. I'll always be a bit of a pansy next to their high expectations of what a man is supposed to be I think, but my kids could never be accused of being of that.

It was a fantastic congregation of like minded souls yesterday. We basked in the warm fall sun and played games that aren't coming out digitally any time soon. I don't think I caught them all. The work was done by 14:30, even the clean up and that left a lot of time and energy for spontaneous games of Indian leg wrestling and neck/belt pull contests, tag, chicken, of course, and foot races of various kinds.

I have to be careful here or this will evolve into a book. If the brevity of this all leaves you unsatisfied, please refer to the books Trauma Farm by Brian Brett and or Ox bells and fireflies by Ernest Buckler.

I meant to write a review of Trauma Farm, but lost my nerve. Thanks for the book Mum, it was terrific.

The fire and the finishing table crew. The birds were dipped in hot water to loosen the feathers before they were plucked.


I'll probably be lynched for this shot, but I'll say now that these kids were who I would dream would see the world clearly as they make decisions with less ego and more harmony in the future. Clear eyed and filled with wonderment. I've never enjoyed kids more than watching them yesterday. I'm so happy people brought their kids to share in the day. They added a lot!

The opposite of blinker-think no? There was ample opportunity, space and time to escape the dirty work, but all the kids seemed to venture into the deep water at various times through the day. Kids are much more curious, capable and cognisant than they are often credited with. I remain in awe of their collective contributions through the day. There was a place that meant something really grown up for everyone that wanted it and they all did.


A very poor image of the primary plucking station.


I think she got it all. Mighty put her away with a journey to the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, to find out what the Crocodile has for dinner. ...


There were a number of hard core animal lovers on hand for the chores and festivities. Here's one of the top tier troopers with one of our layers.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hummingbirds gone and chicken news

The hummingbirds stuck around through the 12th of September this year. It seems that anything past the labour day long weekend is a bonus. The grass is slowing down and the meat birds are looking very edible.

Some other small stock owners have commented that the birds have struggled with some respiratory ailment and some of ours have some raspy breathing too. We didn't have to medicated them, but maybe we should have. More will be told when we see the lungs I suppose.

After all the hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water hauled and the mountain of grain fed, it leaves me a bit tense to think that some of that work may go for naught.

The less domesticated layers are so darned robust and I'm so grateful to have them. I will continue to breed these myself for as long as I can. I often wonder how long we'll be allowed to have chickens. We can only buy meat birds from one producer in Manitoba now and have to travel quite a distance to pick them up at a specified time. It would be sad to have to go back to commercial poultry. For flavour and integrity the supermarket bird follows in a very distant second place next to the omnivorous free ranging foragers we're used to.

I remember my body reacting negatively to the stress of kill day. Now, not so much. They have a great life here from what I can tell. The meat birds are freaks of genetic engineering and can grow so fast that they can die from it. Their legs break, they fall over dead from heat attacks and generally aren't very strong. They're bred to sit in cramped quarters, move as little as possible while they eat and drink themselves into a medicated six week life binge. Six weeks, from what I've heard, lands you a KFC special. I expect it's even less time on those ones. It disturbs my sleep to think too much about it. I've heard that the North American standards for keeping commercial birds is well over on the draconian side.

The layer flock is always so tidy and feminine. The meat birds can't even keep their back ends clean until about this time of year when they are ready, or maybe I'm the one ready for the chopping block. By now, near the end, I've usually gained a genuine affection for the meat birds. This fall they look fabulous and I'm taking great pleasure in them. They've cleaned up some, and there are enough white feathers involved to make attractive lawn ornaments out of the flock.

Here's how I manage the birds for those that might like to take a swing at it.

I feed a mix of what farmers call chop. It's mostly oats, but there is at least ten percent barley in the mix too. I buy 50 kilos of crushed corn and 75 kilos of soybean meal and what comes out of the farmer's mix mill is about 800 kilos of feed in as course a cut as the mix mill will permit. It still comes out a little too fine for chickens, but with the addition of the tasty corn and barley the chickens don't get too fussy.

If they do get fussy and won't eat it well, I've mixed the feed with water just before feeding time and fed it wet and they all really like that action, but it's a messy proposition to dance with twice or three times a day.

For good healthy birds it's really a game of being very observant of your flock. Too little feed and they won't be growing like they should. Too lean a feed will do the same thing. It must be rich enough to help them be thrifty.

Too much feed and there is no end of grief. I use to think I could have feed in front of them continuously like I hear the commercial growers do, but I learned differently. They get really discontent and begin the sad song of cannibalism. Ideally it's a bit like I've heard Zen masters suggest for us. Eating about ten percent less than one needs is a very healthy way to live.

I wish I could live that way. I'm trying to learn, but it's tough slogging.

The feed requirements change as they grow, so it's difficult to give an exact quanity or quality of feed. To get a feel for it, I watch how the heavier birds are walking. When they begin to lope I know I'm feeding about as heavily as I can before some begin to go lame. If I have a lot of fliers I know I'm nowhere near the calorie requirements for good growth. Yesterday was the first day that they didn't clean up the third feeding. There is hope!

I add salt and calcium to the feed too, but it's just a sprinkle on the top of the feed pail. I may try and include that in the mix mill next year to try and simplify feeding time a little more again, but I'll have to do some math before I make that commitment.

The new chicken run has been a boon. Finally there is no pressure on the flower gardens! A good wing clipping hasn't hurt either.

It looks like it's going to be a beautiful and cool day on Saturday for the sacrifice. It's always been a festival of friendship, good cheer and old school fun. I wish Rita and Mum could be here to sit by the fire and knit while they spice the banter. Young kids, old kids, friends and family will pitch in until it's done for another year. With every passing year I grow in my gratitude for our fortune. Thank-you chickens.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mr. Cabbage Head

That's not a cabbage. This is a cabbage! Ridiculous.


Friday, September 10, 2010

MSN instant messaging

I've had to create a new MSN account for those that want to reach me via the instant messaging service provided by Micro$oft. For those that wish, please add to find me there.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Seasonal transitions - mayonnaise

Steve got me thinking about tomatoes this morning. I don't need much prompting. PU used to horde them all until she had completed her canning, but in the last few years I've managed to weasel my way into an increasing number of these gems for eating fresh.

Of course for lunch I had to have tomatoes in a sandwich on City Rye. I was going to make up some bacon and include some lettuce, but decided to keep it simple and save more room for more tomato! Mayo is one of the sandwich ingredients I find particularly complimentary to a tomato sandwich. If one has a blender, it's a very simple process to make my own mayonnaise.

It doesn't keep forever though and if poorly cared for will poison you. I used pinned diapers for the kids too. I love to live on the edge. I keep my tools clean and my fridge cold. For the mayo at least. I toss it out after four or five days if it's not used up by then. I often cheat. So far so good.

I usually only add one clove of garlic in the recipe below, but I will change up the spicing with curry, dill, different vinegars and such, at will. I often reduce the salt to 3/4 tsp too. As with many things, the mayo flavour usually benefits from sitting for a few hours before use.

Like flogging a dead horse, I will mention now and again that mustard is an emulsifier and mayonnaise apparently can't be made without it.

Basic Mayonnaise

1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
2 cloves garlic (that's a lot)
2 Tbsp vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil (I like olive oil often)

Combine a 1/4 cup oil, the salt, egg, mustard, garlic, vinegar and in blender. Cover and blend until ingredients are mixed.

Slowly pour in the remaining oil, until mixture has thickened. I start out pouring slowly and then as it thickens it's a race to get it all in. I assist the blending with a spatula carefully placed to not interfer with the blades. Keep refrigerated.

It's no longer summer. Ripe tomatoes won't last more than a month or two and the seasons roll on. I saw humming birds this morning, but it will only be a few more days before they head off to their winter resorts. The chickens are plumping up well and the grass, although green isn't growing as quickly. The kids and PU are back in school and the fall chores are coming back into mind.

All the work I've been successful in avoiding in the shop for the summer is now screaming at me. Back in the saddle again.

I think we'll have some kind of eggs for dinner, and tomatoes of course.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fall harvest - more droning on about garlic

This shot is very flattering I must say. I've become confused about the amount I harvested this year. The figure I had seemed unreasonable so the jury remains out on the total weight.


Every year I can't resist taking this same shot.


Not very many hot peppers this year. I canned about three litres of sauce and remain very happy with the recipe.


James and Boo picked wild grapes for jelly and the crew were busy here cleaning them. They were savagely acidic and hurt a couple of the folks with more sensitive skin. Boo got 11 small jars out of this and says it tastes very exotic and quite pleasant. Apparently James and his domestic grapes get the jelly treatment tomorrow. I can't wait to taste some of this stuff.


Brenda's cute summer squash


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pickles and the green green grass of home

Is this really the prairie farm lawn in the first week of September? It makes me want to throw a football. Fall must be close. It's not that we didn't have beautiful weather this summer. We had great stretches of heat and sunshine in abundance this year. It's just that mowing grass is getting tiresome. So I'm grousing a bit.

Do you like the tent in the back yard? We live in a a place that's dominated by the wild things and the kids can't wait to sleep outside. The increasing disconnect between so many people and the challenges posed by the natural world is not playing out here like it is in some other places apparently.


I think the fermented pickles are dying. The two jars were assembled slightly differently and a week or so apart from each other, but both jars seem to be growing something other than the desirable bacteria. I've never been happy with the recipe so I tossed everything I thought I knew into the air this year. Maybe it's not surprising that it hasn't been a screaming success, but it's still disappointing. I only get a couple of cracks at this recipe every year so time's a wastin'.

The second jar seems to have a different kind of infection than this one and the brine still smells fantastic. I fed the worst jar full to the chickens this morning and the brine had a nasty cheese smell to it. The birds didn't mind a bit. Chickens are amazingly versatile consumers. The better of the two jars went into the fridge a week earlier (30%) than prescribed today. We'll try and eat them up I guess.



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Red tail hawk

Add hawks to the squeeze of predator pressure this year. Yesterday a spectacular red tail hawk took a free lunch here. When I noticed that there were no birds out in the run I knew something was up.

I wasn't prepared for this hawk to be as bold as brass, but it sure was. Given that we're down between 20 and 25 birds this year, it might have occurred to me to get my shotgun before heading off to investigate, but no. So there he or she is ripping the tastiest bits out from the headless chicken not more than twenty feet from me. It stayed stuck to it's task too. I was thinking it might take a swing at defending the kill as I approached, but it took off. What a sight. They are majestic displays of evolutions vigour.

Later when I got a shot away I had run out of the house without proper footwear and left my glasses behind. Maybe a second cup of coffee will help tomorrow. I made some feathers fly, but when I did, he just jumped down a couple of branches so he didn't pose such and easy target and stayed there while I cursed my lack of preparation.

Now all the hawk as to do is fly by and the chickens all take cover. Hopefully the rain tomorrow will keep the excitement to a minimum.

Wayne Wood's image from Photozo looks very much like what I was confronted with.