Rain and Illness

I must say we have had better days. We had thunderstorms last night, and heavy rain. Today we have more heavy rain. Nicholas is back in bed with a headache. I am hiding indoors with another attack of angio-edema. It is slowly abating, but it looks frightful, and is somewhat painful. I have no idea what triggered this flare-up, if was mould or allergy or another virus. I’m guessing virus, as we have both had watery eyes, sore throats and a general feeling of being kicked around a bit.

There’s not much to be done outside, except feeding and watering goats, so with all the antihistamines I’ve taken, a day of slow reading on the couch seems to be in order.

Crofting: Bucky Improves and Almost Kills Me

The Morrisons on their croft

This is where we are going to be vis-a-vis transportation if petrol prices do not recede. They won’t; so I am actively looking for a low-cost horse and cart solution. I paid $1.24/litre for gas today. Multiply that by four to get an approximate cost per gallon. The prices were lower in Grand Falls than in Perth, where I shopped, but I needed to go to Perth first, and then didn’t want to risk attempting the voyage up the Trans-Canada to Grand Falls on less than a quarter-tank. As I filled up at the Irving station, a young man in a new VW bug pulled up across from me. The new “people’s car” is no longer rear engine and air-cooled, so I assume it is a little thirstier than the old models I had. “I used to fill up my bug for $10,” I said to him, just to show that I am old enough to be his mother. “Not anymore,” he said, pumping $30+. I put $50 in my almost empty Dodge Dakota, and that has to last most of the month if not all of the month. We used to take a monthly trip to Fredericton, but no more, as that would now cost us about $80. Without a second income, we can’t afford it. Once I drop off the rent check, the hydro (electric) bill comes in and I pick up Nicholas’s Crestor prescription, that will be all we need for the month. I try to spend the income right away, pay up everything I can, and then sit on what is left. I am quite concerned that we always have enough on hand to buy at least a tank of fuel for the truck. I may have a wee bit extra coming this month, if Canada Post every decides to deliver mail. The strike will supposedly be off next week.

I suppose I could get a small cart and harness Bucky. He is feeling much better, thank you. The abcess has drained and is mostly gone, with just a small bump left. The goat salve treatment must have helped. I am brewing some more rosemary tea for their drinking water tonight. He is feeling so frisky that when I was clipping him to his tire rim picket, he decided he needed to go see what Vanilla was doing, and wrapped the cable around me, dragging me along. It took all of that old sea training to keep me on my feet as we pitched together in tandem for a good ten feet or more. I staked down his tire rim, as he now knows he can haul it around.

My friend Sonja said her grandfather used to get around by goat cart. I can see it now, Bucky and I bumping down the old railroad right of way along the St. John River. I’m not sure what people in Perth-Andover would think. There are some good spots to tie up, but would someone who doesn’t know how strong goats are report me to the SPCA? I once had some troublemaker call the SPCA to report that I was neglecting the sheep. I was away for a long weekend, and my neighbour and fellow pastor, Kimber, was looking after the animals. They knew her as the second-in-command, and she was a really good substitute shepherd. An SPCA worker came to the yard and asked if they could examine the animals. Kimber, in fact, was a bit miffed. She had been attending to the sheep diligently, with grain and water, and as it was summer, they were on meadowgrass, too. “Go right ahead,” Kimber said, and took them to the pasture. “Well,” the SPCA worker said as he looked at the plump, happy sheep who came running to the fenceline. “Actually, they look maybe a little overfed. Nothing wrong here.” (This was repeated in another location; I now suspect that the supposed SPCA worker in the second instance was trying to find an excuse to take my purebred animals to a relative who was interested in keeping them. Yes, that can happen. The SPCA is not a government ordained agency, and most of the time the courts are simply not interested in an owner’s complaint if animals are removed unfairly.)

Today I met a man in the market where I went to get my feed. He was buying dog toys, the kind that is like a tennis ball with a heavy line through it. He said to me as I ordered feed and bedding, “Funny, this is for my goat.” I looked incredulous, I’m sure, or at least puzzled. “Yup,” he said, “she needs something to keep her busy and she can’t chew these to pieces.” I have found my goats trying to nibble on pieces of polypro line, which is a big mistake. I have never thought to buy them toys, though. My sheep used to have toys – a big indestructible playground ball, and a tough polyurethane tub which they enjoyed kicking and butting. A tub can be filled halfway with water, and apples put in it, then frozen in a chest freezer. It will keep goats, sheep and calves amused all afternoon.

Crofting: Gains and Challenges

Uncle Buck

Poor Buck – he got stung by a bee or bit by a deerfly, and developed a large swelling on his shoulder. It didn’t bother him much, so I salved it with my home-made goat salve (olive oil, tea tree oil, a wee bit of vitamin e, lavender oil, and beeswax) and left it alone for about a week. It reduced by half but it was kind of ugly. Rather than lancing it and risking who knows what in infection, I thought it would either be re-absorbed or would drain on its own. Yuck. It drained; horrible congealed pus. I cleaned it up with an infusion of rosemary and daisy flowers (dried herb in boiling water). He was very patient with the whole process, even though I had to tie him to the stall door. I sopped at it with surgical sponges, then bound on a sponge or two with sticky cloth to catch the rest. In the evening I removed that, washed it again, salved it, and bandaged him. He has been good so far about the bandage; I’ll find out for sure in a few minutes when I go to shut the barn. I diluted the rest of the clean rosemary infusion, and all three goats had a long, tasty drink of it. Rosemary is an excellent tonic and antiseptic. I drink it myself when ill, especially with colds. I do use a teacup and not a steel bucket, though. It is good tepid for a sick animal, with honey stirred in. I find that just about any animal, when ill, will relish rosemary tea with honey. It should be natural, unpasteurized honey, added while the tea is tepid and not hot. Heat destroys the medicinal properties of honey.

I have been using mixed pine and cedar shavings in the goat stalls, and this is working well. It keeps down the flies and the stall doesn’t become as mucky. I am also experimenting with raking up our lawn clippings (note: as long as hay) as green hay for the goats. I put some loose in the barn to dry, and this got them through a couple of rainy days. The rest was turned today by rake (hot, sweaty work) and I hope to get it in tomorrow. The shortest grass clippings just mouldered and bred flies, so that will go to compost. It was the good long grass and “weeds” – wildflowers – that dried well without mold.

Nikki just called from Moncton; she and her husband are visiting his family near here over the long weekend (Canada Day is July 1). They are bringing us replacement tomato and pepper plants. What few of my starts that survived the storm have been depleted by crows, who love to pull up the little cocoa-fibre pots I used. That was an entirely unsuccessful experiment, and this year I am saving all my soup cans and other containers, and will not use the “plant-it-whole” starting pots. The crows love them. I have found the old bottomless buckets used here previously for tomatoes and peppers, and even pumpkins, to foil crows. Once the cucurbit plant is well-established, the bucket can be removed.

My beans, radishes, lettuce and cucumbers as well as pumpkin and squash are up and doing well. Peas and beets are in. I am contemplating how to make hot caps or row covers if I need them into the fall. I will get some fall type crops in soon, like kale and rutabagas, that love the cold weather and do better after a frost or two.

Beans are important to us. These are drying beans, which will be our winter staple. I have one potato plant from my experiment with planting in tubs. Potatoes are grown locally. I can get plenty from farmers I know, but I was hoping for some early baby potatoes.

I closed my Facebook account. It was getting to be a lot of work; I was engaged in a lot of ministry through it and I got kind of burned out. We call it compassion fatigue, when caregivers (ministers, nurses, social workers, doctors) can’t put the work down, and it starts to prey on one’s mind. Facebook is also a place where people quickly jump to offense, and balancing how and what to say while being effective in my Christian witness was getting to be wearing. I was quite upset that a good friend thought I had insulted her, but her memory of that event doesn’t match mine. Explanations sometimes seem to be fruitless, too.

We are also in a conundrum of what to do about the internet connection. It is expensive for us. I am not making any money through it, as I had hoped. Friends have referred me to a couple more opportunities, and if they can pay enough, I will keep this connection. I am still praying, although in the face of probable disapointment, for ministry and parish opportunities. I have asked for an interview with the bishop, and friends are writing letters in my behalf, following up on letters written last year, and my own recent letter. We’ll see.

Crofting: 10 More Ways to Make it Work

As we get settled here, more ideas occur to me on what can make life a bit easier, or at least a bit easier to bear.

1. Don’t be proud. Accept offered help, call the friendly neighbour, introduce yourself. You may need them, they may need you, and it does get quiet and lonely out here.

2. Take a day off and make some ice cream. Once the animals are fed and there is at least bread and peanut butter in the house, give yourself a day off occasionally.

3. Have enough softwood on hand to start a fire. This is always a challenge for us. I don’t want to spend good money on pine, honestly. So it is either scavenge pretty well or bite the bullet and buy.

4. Don’t be a thief. Things not to steal: Someone’s time, lost items by the side of the road, things bought on the “pay you next week” plan. My landlady had a good way of putting it, when I praised her for being so completely honest with the insurance company: “Isn’t my integrity worth more than $500?” Your integrity, and the trust people will put in you for having it, is worth more than whatever small amount you gained by some random dishonesty. Another petty “theft” to avoid: Furniture, tools, materials from “abandoned” buildings – tempting to just take them, thinking they are long forgotten, but they aren’t, necessarily, so stay out of other people’s barns and old houses. People have been prosecuted and gone to court over the old table, the butter churn, the windows, they harvested from “abandoned” buildings. I am still replacing scythes, hay forks and hand tools thieves took from my shed a couple of years ago, and I lost heirlooms when my garage was raided while we were in the process of moving. As for items that literally fell off the back of a truck –  ask the owner of the property on which it is resting if you can take it away.

5. Be a good tenant. While we will never win any “House Beautiful” contests, I do make it a point to keep trash and loose items stowed properly, and we notify the landlord immediately of any problems rather than waiting to see if it is getting worse. Rent paid on time is always welcome, too!

6. Know when to move on. Not necessarily from your croft, but don’t overstay your welcome in borrowed sheds, barns, fields. It can sour a good relationship with your landlord, neighbours, friends and relatives when you leave livestock, car parts, old furniture and household bits and bobs in their space.

7. Join a church. Rural communities are often centred on churches. If you are not deeply opposed to organized religion and have at least some heart for the spiritual, being part of an established church will give you not only food for your soul, but a network of people who will refer, help, listen and show up in an emergency.

8. Work on projects in stages. We need to put up fence, build a chicken coop, and continue to beat a garden into shape. Things did not go as we hoped or expected for a wide scope of reasons. When life events gang up on you, throttle back, relax, break each planned task into smaller parts and do what you can. Otherwise, you will be tempted to give up.

9. The reality will not match the dream in your head. I would have loved a river view, upland farm with a big barn and established fences. I have a small croft up a cliff, mostly level, with an old garage and no fence. I could have said, “No, this isn’t it,” but we would have missed honest and charitable landlords, a well-drained soil, the opportunity to rebuild a small farm, and proximity to a community we know and love.

10. Be encouraged by small gains. Chickens are laying after weeks of adjusting feed and housing? Excellent! The lettuce is up even if cutworms ate the tomatoes? Have Casear salad. No money, petrol or time for an evening trip to town for dinner and the theatre? Invite the neighbours in for coffee and Scrabble.

So maybe you have to forget all the enthusiastic blogs you’ve read, and relegate cravings for big city pizza to the next get-together with your family. Maybe it isn’t all Sunshine Family and John Denver. It’s still a good way to live.

The Croft: Getting It Under Control – Maybe

WordPress is being finicky about loading photos this week, so I will put off a post that needs illustration until I can wrangle it back into submission.

Our riding lawnmower (well, Paul’s riding lawnmower that lives here) is repaired and running. The battery was low and it wouldn’t turn over. Paul charged it and showed me what I was doing wrong. Then he decided it needed to be run for a while, but Milli and I went off to my kitchen for tea and chat. Paul mowed all around the barn and gardens, after he replaced the belt on the mower. Oh. That too?

These good people are very tolerant of my inability to manage machinery. The tiller – broke a shear pin and replaced it wrong. The mower – ran the battery down and popped the belt. The water pump – well, that wasn’t my fault but who knows; maybe I attract lightning strikes.

We are still hacking at the second garden plot. My neolithic garden is very slowly turning into plantable soil. I put in some peas and beets today. Nicholas pounds at the sods and lumps, I pick out the rocks and rake smooth the worst of it, then literally sprinkle or shove some seeds in. Nice modern gardens prepared properly iwth machinery have straight rows, and the plants are tidy in their soldier-like columns. My garden is full of hills and wavy beds, with smatterings of plants coming up. Neolithic. We think of it as yet another one of my adventures in pre-iron age technology.

Garden Disaster

Thunderstorms…they happen everywhere. One happened right over the house two weeks ago. Did you know that lightning often travels from the ground to the clouds? And that’s probably what happened here. Our neighbour was standing in his garage when a plasma ball erupted over our roof. He actually felt the shock.

We lost more than half our garden, either snapped off by wind or drowned in a curtain of heavy rain.

The water pump was destroyed, the outside phone switch was so badly damaged that the cover was blown off, and our internet modem was fried. Outside of one phone that had been purchased five years ago for $7, all has been replaced or repaired or salvaged.

Next week I will get a few tomato plants and such to replace what was lost; Canadian Tire has them marked down.

We are still struggling to get the second garden plot in shape. I have heedlessly planted what I called my “Neolithic” garden – it is full of rocks. The rocks will get picked out, the sod busted or moved, and I will get another row of beans or carrots or beets in.

It is not a beautiful garden. It is an example of what one two-bottom plow and two people with a pick-axe and a hoe can do in a short period of time. Some of it may stay in sod until fall, when I truly hope to get fields plowed and harrowed properly.

Lesson: People on this side of the river, at this end of the road, are not farming anymore. We will have to look at our own equipment; I am serious about getting a horse or a team, and a plow, a harrow, and hay making equipment. All it takes is money and a little training. I am being blithely optimistic, because I have no hope of getting the money anytime soon. But God is good, and if the opportunity arises, I will thank Him and rise to the challenge.

BACK AGAIN!

I didn’t mean to be away, but we lost internet service for two weeks following a lightning strike on the house. We were unharmed, but the modem was ruined, our water pump was blasted, and we lost phone service. We continue to work like mad on the garden – which suffered terribly in the storm – and with the goats. No, no kids yet. I will write a much more complete post tomorrow.

Crofting: In the Garden

Just an average day on the job

We are still preparing our garden plots. It is still within reasonable planting season here. This is what I look like when I am adding soil amendments. In our garden this year, those are wood ashes and composted manure. These are not things one wants to breath. And because the manure often has mold spores, I have to be doubly careful not to breathe it unfiltered.

Yes, it is hot, although it is rarely sweltering at this latitude. It keeps the black flies out of my ears and nose, as well. I have a piece of white tulle which is going to be sewn into a veil to go over the sunhat seen here and over bonnets. I think I will make it a tube with drawstrings at either end. I am very much covered from head to foot while outdoors. I wear long sleeves, a high necked dress or blouse, or a kerchief over the neckline, and leggings under the skirt. I wear long socks and at least ankle boots. I have gardening gloves, as well. I cannot wear sunscreen or insect repellent.

In a century past, it wasn’t unusual for women to wear veils while riding in open buggies and automobiles, or to protect their complexion while gardening.

Crofting – A Second Wind

A breath of a breeze

Yesterday was dead calm. I was at my landlady’s house, supposedly helping at her yard sale. I arranged things on tables for a little while – she, her husband and her sister had done most of the work – and her sister was the best salesman! I made myself useful by trimming and helping prepare rhubarb for the freezer. I hate rhubarb, and am thankful when it goes in someone else’s freezer. No one wanted to be outside for long, the black flies were so bad. It doesn’t take much of a wind to keep them off, but we have had rare days of calm here. In other places, a windstorm is portentous and frightening. Here, we live in the wind like sailors; it is the flat calm that feels eery.

Today we had mere ghosts of zephyrs, but it was warm and dry, and on this side of the river, at least, the flies weren’t too bad until late afternoon.

Tara tethered to tire rim

Goats went out on tethers today, once the grass was dry. I gave them some hay before they went out, to keep them from filling up on damp grass too fast. (This will sometimes ferment in their stomachs, and down they go with bloat, a dangerous situation.) They were in the shade of the house most of the day, but they managed to drag their tire rims under the lilacs and spent a glorious and messy afternoon eating the weeds, a bit of lilac (but not much) and dandelions yet untrimmed, requiring occasional rescue as they got tangled in dead branches. The deadwood got cleared out and the undergrowth of the immense lilac shrubs is thinned. They are tethered with covered tie-out cables of the sort sold for dogs, with nylon collars at the goat end. The latch end is passed through and under an old tire rim, just heavy enough to keep them from wanting to drag it around, but not so heavy that it snaps them back if they run to the end. They are quite strong. Tara decided to panic today when I unexpectedly came around the corner of the house, and sprinted to the front yard, towing her tire rim. They have shade from the house and shrubs, and a bucket of water. It would be cruel to tie them out with neither. Goats get sunstroke easily.

They have it figured out that when I take a bucket to the barn at the end of the day, they are going to get grain. So they watch carefully, and when I unsnap them from their tethers, they run to the barn and into their stall. No lingering on the way for a last mouthful of grass – they want their fair share of that grain! I don’t have to lead them or drive them. They go back all on their own.

Vanilla is still getting round in the belly, but hasn’t bagged up at all (that is, the udder hasn’t filled with milk) so I am wondering if she wasn’t as far along in pregnancy as the seller thought, or if she isn’t pregnant at all, and is just gaining some weight!

I am cleaning out a stall and working the composted manure into the new gardens. This is hot, tiring work. The gardens are in the process of being tilled, and then I rake over them to get out the grass roots. When that is done and the stones removed, I spread some wood ash in lieu of lime – we are burning hardwood, and it is alkaline enough to offset the mostly acidic soil here. Evergreen softwood makes ground quite acidic. I hope to have all the gardens dug, treated and planted by the end of the week.

I had finally had enough of spilling plant pots and carrying water around the house to keep all the seedlings going. The lot is now outside, on the old cellar bulkhead. I will cover them with sheets tonight. Last night was a possible last frost, so I am hopeful this is it and everything can go in the garden this week.

Proto-garden

I am finally getting my sea legs back, so to speak, after a long winter of debilitating illness. I had to go back to the topical ointment to get rid of the inflammation and pain of an eczema flare-up, and I am allowing myself plenty of sleep. It is miraculous how sleep heals the skin. I suspect it is partly that I am not continually abrading the skin by scratching and by just moving around inside my clothes, but it is also the deep rest that the body needs to regenerate skin cells. I had another setback with a couple of days of a viral cold, but I am rapidly improving now.

We are finally eating the last winter pumpkin. Nicholas doesn’t care for it, but if I cut it up into cubes, mix it with apple and turnip chunks, and add some cloves, cinnamon and allspice along with maple syrup (which improves everything in life) he likes it well enough baked. Some of it will be made into muffins as well.

 

Frugal Crofting: 10 Ideas

We started on our crofting life with a lot less money than one would normally use to start a small farm. Then expenses shot higher than expected, with oil prices climbing and the cost of everything rising. We had more truck repairs than planned, and I was ill, with no choice but to self-pay for medical care.

We are used to making do or doing without.

We did order seeds, but I found that the readymade seed starting stuff was expensive. So I improvised, as above.

1. Recycle everything. Soup cans, yogurt containers. even take-out coffee cups. Ordinary potting soil worked better than the commercial seedstarting mix. This works if you have places to store items you will use later. We have a basement. As soon as the garden is planted, I will assess what to keep another year and what can go to the big green bin. I don’t want to cross the line into hoarding. So what can be re-used and stored cleanly will stay; the rest will begin its new life.

2. Use the internet, phone and catalogs. It is far cheaper for me to call the store to see if they have in stock what I need rather than making a trip by vehicle to find that it has to be ordered anyway. Postage and shipping costs are less than driving to the city where a product I need is sold. I use eBay and kijiji, the local equivalent of Craigslist. I never drive to town to just browse in the stores. Casual shopping is a waste of resources, and leads to impulse purchases we can’t afford. On the internet I can make comparisons quickly in price and, using product reviews, quality.

3. Buy quality. I refuse to buy cheap tools! They will be frustrating to use, will break or otherwise fail, and have to be replaced. So the $10 tool ends up costing $50 since I will need to replace it with the $40 model I should have bought the first time. My garden tools all have strong, fibreglass or coated handles and tempered steel heads. They cost more initially, but they save money in the course of a year or two. We were once helping someone renovate a small barn, and when Nicholas fitted a bit into the electric drill to start assembling a gate, the owner cautioned him, “Don’t bear down on that too hard!” And why not? “It isn’t tempered.” Excuse me, did you actually buy drill bits that are not tempered steel? And why? They looked good and they were cheap. They were also useless except for drilling holes in cardboard.

4. Don’t pay interest. Your mortgage should be the only loan you carry, once student loans get paid. We rent here, which is practical for us. Credit cards are a chump’s game. So are brokered loans for purchases like lawn mowers and furniture. Save, then buy. Borrow a lawn mower, or share the cost with a neighbour or family member. Don’t fall for those “no payments for a year” deals; they often run up interest four times what the item is worth.

5. Learn to cook. And buy good kitchenware – sharp knives, a heavy butcher’s block, good steel pans. Cook from basic ingredients, and learn to bake. With bread here costing $3 a loaf and more, and 5 kg of flour on sale for the same amount – well, do the math. If you are confident that you can turn out a good meal on your own, you will be less tempted to get take-out or eat restaurant meals. It makes raising your own food a lot more productive when you can venture past salad ingredients in the garden. Avoid stocking up canned soups, cake mixes and so on, although it does help to have a few convenience things available in case you are sick or you have spent three hours rounding up wayward sheep.

6. Buy less expensive crossbreed animals. It is beguiling to get into purebreds, with dreams of showing and winning prizes, leading to selling high-priced breeding stock. This rarely plays out, though. Showing itself is an expense, with trailering stock, overnight stays, and lots of miles on the farm truck. If what you need is milk, eggs, meat and wool to use at home or sell locally, an animal with no pedigree may do as well at less investment. Of the breeders I have known over the years, none but a very few ever did well with show quality animals. The rest found they were supporting their hobby animals with another job.

7. Buy off-season. Don’t buy a planter in the spring; don’t buy a snowblower in December. Wait for off-season sale prices. Buy the previous season ‘s leftover model.

8. Buy what you need. Stockpiling is a waste of money, space and sometimes a complete waste of the purchase if it spoils, decays or rusts before you can use it. The rule of thumb is buy no more than what you will use within six months; for the croft, my rule is a year if it is something that will keep. It’s no good buying 20 pounds of tomatoes at the farm stand if you can’t get them eaten or canned before they rot. Some petroleum products, such as gasoline, do not have a long shelf life. Batteries may not be any good after a year or more. I’ve seen people stockpile soft goods like toilet paper only to have mice get into it and chew it to shreds.

9.Buy only battery powered items that will take rechargeable batteries. We have two items – a cell phone and a digital camera. Batteries for a barn lantern get to be a big expense, for example.

10. Do it yourself. A few projects may require a licensed professional, but if you do not earn more per hour than that contractor does, you are working more of your hours to pay for his. We all like to think about the large scale, self-sufficiency projects such as a wind turbine or a new barn with lights and running water, but these things are usually too much for any of us to take on alone. Scale back the plans to the point where the work is within your competency.

There are many more ways to save money on a small farm. Share your favourite ideas.