Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Spreading The Joy

“Mankind, for all it’s artistic pretensions, owes it’s existence to 6 inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains”

One of the tasks of winter is the cleaning of the animal barns. The composting process grinds to a halt due to the cold weather, but the poo keeps coming. I top up the compost bins just before freezeup and let the freeze thaw cycle continue the work of the hibernating microbes.
Our old barn has a manure pack laid down by various animal residents over the years. The sharp hooves of the sheep shred the surface and they drag their bedding straw around the pen. Every few days, I rake the surface and pile the manure into my cheerfully coloured plastic sleigh. I then haul it to the garden and spread it on the beds. In keeping with organic practices, I can only add this lightly aged manure for a few months in deepest winter. I must stop adding uncomposted manure no later than 90 days before planting my crop. The deadline is 120 days before planting a root crop. I’ve got until about June, so I should get all my beds covered with a layer of black gold.
The henhouse gets refreshed on the warmer days of winter. The poultry litter is too hot to be applied directly to the garden so it is piled over a heap of cornstalks and left to ferment. I also continue to add the contents of my household compost pail, as well as a small amunt of sawdust and wood ash from the stove.
It is pleasant winters work. It gets me outside for a while each day. There is none of the urgency of the other seasons and the reward is measureable.
The thaw and the rains of spring will leach the harshness out of this manure and leave a rich black crumb which will add to the tilth of my little patch of heaven.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Wintersown Project

On November 3, 2009, I planted a mix of radish (french breakfast), carrot (touchon) and spinach (king of Denmark) seed together. I placed the bin inside my old van. The outside temperature were about 10*C during the day and about 10 degrees higher inside the van. I figured that things would sprout but I wasn't hopeful for a harvest since the amount of daylight is pretty low in November.

We had sprouties by the 20th of Novemeber. Temps stayed about the same with a few cold nights. On December 4th, all was progressing well but the sliding door fell off the van. I moved the project inside to an unheated summer bedroom. Temps varied but did not go beyond 10*. The sprouties had an east facing window which gave them good morning light. They weren't doing alot but they satisfied my need for green.

December 23rd, still hanging on. They have yet to be watered. The radish are the sturdiest of the bunch. The carrots and spinach are still thinking about what they need to do and whether this is the right time of year to do it.

January 5th. The sprouties endured a few days of at freezing temperatures. I finally watered them and they perked up. The room is staying about about 5*C and getting lots of sunlight. The sprouties have been in a state of cold confusion for 2 months but they aren't dead.
To be continued....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound,
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

--Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things,"

Friday, December 11, 2009

Behold, it snoweth

I just like saying that.

One of the reasons I feel so comfortable living in northern Ontario is the amount of sunlight we receive. I spent most of my life in the snowbelts of Southern Ontario. In winter, it was either dull and dreary or snowing and dreary. From about Hallowe'en to mid January, I was almost homicially SAD. Most people are glad that I no longer live there, except for the store owners who sold refined sugar, complex carbohydrates and restraining orders.

The North has about 30% more sunshiny days than the snowbelt. I love the quality of the sunlight up here. The sky is huge and open and full of shapes. The days are longer by almost 40 minutes in high summer. Most wonderful of all, is watching the lines of snow squalls hammer at the regions south. Today was a gloriously sunny day. I stood out of the wind, in my ankle deep snow and photographed the squall clouds.

There is a snow emergency in that other part of the world, with 80 to 100 centimetres of snow to fall today. Hunker in your bunker with eggnog and cookies because you aren't going anywhere until it stops. I'm free to move about, swaddled to the eyeballs against the wind, but able to enjoy the light and the beauty that is winter on the Island.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Keeping A Quaker Christmas

As an abiding Quaker, I take time to reflect on how I feel about the upcoming holiday season. I truly believe that every day is to be celebrated and that no one day in my life has any more value than any other. If I start and end each day with gratitude, nothing that happens in between has the power to ruin tomorrow.

In order to keep Christmas the way I want it to be, I follow the examples of other Quakers:

Keep it short: Ignore it until it is truly here. That means driving with the car radio turned off, staying out of the malls, and ignoring the advertising in November.

Keep it beautiful: Take an evening and go out and admire the lights. Walk in the stillness of snowfall at night. Look for the crystals in the sunlit trees at dawn.

Keep it simple: Debt has no part of Christmas. The main verb of Christmas shouldnt be buy. Create, connect, appreciate, share, sing.

Keep it charitable: There is always need. Find one that you can fill.

Keep it religious: It is a Christian holiday. Respect and enjoy the traditions of others, even if their way of observing is different than yours.

Keep it balanced: Be sociable but find time to be still.

Keep it traditional: Bring forward traditions from your childhood. Make room for new traditions to begin.

However you celebrate, make these last days of the year yours to enjoy.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Soapy Saturday

In my latest attempt at avoidance of the things that I really should be concerned with, my ditzy brain has been consumed with a longing to make homemade soap. I've always coveted those creamy, pretty bars of handcrafted soap that I see at the Farmers Market. I've never bought any because the little voice in my head keeps chanting "you can do that." The chant became a clamour so I hastened to the Internet to do a little research.

The Internet soap making websites are full of dire warnings about the dangers of Lye. You can't make soap without Lye but you can hurt yourself terribly with Lye. There were little pictures of a woman disfigured and blinded by a soap making gone wrong. I pointed her out to my little nagging voice and told it to hush. It commenced a muttering and a few days later I found myself examining the cooking oils on the grocery store shelf. Then I contemplated buying a stick blender and the next thing I knew, I was in the hardware store buying the dreaded Lye! I lined everything up on the counter and looked at it for a really long time before I cranked up the nerve to begin.

Blind dogs are not a crucial component of soap making, even if they think they are. I should have named my blind dog VISA, because he's everywhere I want to be. Soap making commenced after all dogs were banished from the room. Wearing my hand fashioned and totally unneccesary HazMat suit, I warmed olive oil and lard into a big pot. Then using slow motion movements worthy of a bomb disposal unit, I added lye crystals to a pot of distilled water. Holy Nuclear Reaction Batman! That was cool. I waited, but the Lye didnt launch itself off the counter and assault my eyes. Although it looked like it wanted to.

I fiddled back and forth with a candy thermometer until both pots had cooled to 100*F. I poured the lye solution into the warmed oils. Using my stick blender and whisk with increasing confidence, I stirred the coffee coloured goop until I achieved the magical state of "trace". My soap goop soup had the pudding consistency of trace within 15 minutes. I was amazed. I did it! And I still had both my eyeballs! Soapmaking suddenly became a non scary and intriquing thing to do.

I scooped out a cup of soap and blended it with cocoa. I drizzled that mixture back into my lovely pot of gloop and swirled it thru. Now I didn't just have non threatening and homely homemade soap - I had created a docile and attractive soap. Into the plastic margarine tub mold it went and I quickly swaddled it in a towel. I left it to nap on top of the pellet stove but I couldnt resist a few peeks and pokes. Soap needs to continue the internal chemical heating process for a few days in order to neutralize the lye. Then it needs to cure for 2 to 4 weeks before it is safe to use.

Most things I attempt for the first time do not turn out as well as this soap has done. Usually I need to rethink or redo something in order to get it right. They say soap making is addiction and I can see why. My creative juices are bubbling over with thoughts of growing this herb or that flower to add to my soap. There is a whole universe of essential oils for fragrance opening up before me. And best of all, homemade soap is cheap!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Talk of the Town

Everybody's talking about it.

It was the lead story on the 8am radio news. The old guys drinking coffee on the porch at the gas station were discussing it. My neighbour wanted to know if I knew. We've been wondering when this was going to happen for a long time. I wonder how long it's going to take us to get used to it.

The big news is that the Island has a Stoplight!! Well, not quite, but a flashing yellow light was installed over the intersection where the fire station is located. It is a leap in to the modern century for us. Now we're on a slippery slope leading to fast food, drive thrus and horror of horrors, a Mall.

The Island is 4000 sq miles of virgin stoplight free territory. It's the last frontier of traffic control. An oasis of unimpeded vehicle movement. I guess I'm okay with it. If they can build a complex high above us in space, it was only a matter of time until that blinking light technology made it's way to here. The first traffic lights were installed in England in 1868. traffics lights became common in the larger U.S. cities in the 1920's. Manitoulin Island is about 140 years off the pace. I'm good with that.

I cant tell people that I live in a land without stoplights anymore. Not that I'd want anyone to be harmed because there wasnt a traffic light where one was needed but it makes things a little less special. A flashing yellow means 'Drive with Caution". Because we are 140 years behind everyone else, I'm pretty sure that we do already.
I hope we are still another century away from a Walmart.