Crofting: Sunny Skies, Stormy Skies

We had several days of rough weather, with rain and wind. Goats and chicks had to stay indoors, which was not what they favoured. We had the goats out on picket and when the first storm came up in the late afternoon, Bucky would have nothing to do with it, and pulled himself loose. He wedged his tether under the lilac though, and he stood there and bawled like a toddler until I rescued him.

The smallest chick suffered an injury to her face last night. I suspect that things got a bit rough around the feed dish, and she took a beak to the noggin. One eyelid is swollen. She seems fine otherwise, eating and drinking, even chirping and beginning to roost on the edge of the dish. We will see how that goes. I checked her frequently today to make sure she isn’t getting bullied, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Silkies are famous for their good temperaments. I do remember a bit of a squeak from the crate last night, so that may have been the moment of conflict. When I went in to check, all was settled.

Nicholas has the hen pen almost finished. We have made some changes to reinforce it, so that goats can’t rampage through the wire. I’m hoping that these almost fledged chicks will soon be barn residents. Nicholas keeps their crate immaculate, but pine chips and chick chow seem to dribble out. I cleaned the barn today, after goats had been penned for two days. That’s about as long as I will let it go. It’s bad enough that this is housefly season. We have been chasing and smacking flies for three days, but there always seem to be two or three who are clever and get away. The barn gets a bit nasty with them after a few wet days, and I had to use a kennel spray to keep down the population. It is safe for animal bedding, and it works well. I don’t spray the whole barn, just the worst spots, and pen the goats away from the spray for 24 hours. I’m being overly cautious, but they can take some peculiar ideas into their hard little skulls, and I don’t want them tasting the walls.

Would you trust that face? I don't.

We are eating peas, beans, lettuce, radishes and onions from the garden. The tomato plants are setting fruit, so I am anticipating a good crop. Plenty more beans coming along, a few sunflowers, and cucumber and squash are wending through the wild yarrow. All my herbs are doing well, too.

Today was one of those perfect Canadian summer days. The sky was clear as a cold water spring, the breeze was sweet and not too stiff. The air sparkled like a diamond. We reminisced about perfect summer days when we were young. In August, about this time, my sisters and I would spend all the time we could outdoors, riding our bikes, walking in the woods, helping in the garden. (I also spent hours in the kitchen turning the food mill as that produce got canned, but that’s another story.) Nicholas remembered a day like this, late August, when school had just started. He was sixteen. The bus pulled to the curb; he and his good friend Tom got on. They had their brown bag lunches with them.

They looked out the window at the little white clouds scudding by, off Lake Ontario. “Come on,” Nicholas said. “I’m not wasting today.”

“Where are we going?” Tom wanted to know.

“The lake.” They got off the bus, hiked over to the waterfront, and rigged Nicholas’s OK dinghy. They sailed all day, getting sunburned, heading home late. There were consequences, but as Nicholas still says, “It was worth the lecture.”

“Was your dad angry?” I asked. “No,” he said. “It was more that he was jealous.”

via daily mail


Crofting: Goats, Chicks, Husband

Nicholas finished the tiny fenced yard outside the barn. I wanted a yard primarily for the chickens, but also a place to quickly stash the goats when I am working in the barn. It is quite securely built, with top and bottom rails to stretch the fence wire across.  We need to block off a few small gaps to keep chickens in, and I will sew a cover for it out of old sheets. Tied to fence posts at the corners, it will make an effective shade and anti-hawk cover. I’ve done it before with chicken yards. If it rains, it doesn’t get weighted down like a tarp. It lasts a season, but old sheets are cheap at rummage and garage sales. The silkies don’t fly like other chickens, which was the reason I made one before. The average chicken can roost in a tree 4-8 feet high, and my chickens were choosing to fly out of their pen to socialize in the trees.

The chicks are growing fast. The biggest one is twice the size of the smallest one. I haven’t had any more losses, so I suspect that the runt got accidentally smothered or trampled. The little  ones cuddle under the wings of the bigger ones. Silkies are good brooders and good mothers. They  aren’t prolific layers, since they go broody, but these, if enough of them are hens, will provide a few eggs for us. I will get laying pullets later. Nicholas is enjoying caring for the silkies, so that is good enough for now.  The eggs are usually buff or brown, but I’ve seen silkie eggs in blue. Some of ours may be crossbred with bantams, but it isn’t noticeable. They are a nice looking, gentle chicken, known for being friendly and pet-like. They would be a good choice for children raising chickens. Even the roosters have parenting instincts and are easy to handle.

silkie hen and chick via wikinut guides

I  have the goats out on tether as the weather is very nice. I had to shorten Tara’s lead a moment ago, as she and Vanilla have decided that lilac has a nice taste. I don’t mind a little trimming, but they nibbled a three-foot high swath out of the back of the bush. These are big old bushes, but I still would like blossoms next year. Lilac only blossoms on old wood. If you cut your lilac blossoms, you will get fewer next year.

I cut a little clover this morning, but it was just too warm for stooping down in skirts and a bonnet, so I will do some more and hoe the garden tonight. We are eating radishes, lettuce and peas from the garden now, with lots of tomatoes coming along, and beans due in a week or so. This may seem late, but due to weather and the lightning strike, everything got planted a month after it would usually go in. Doug and Nikki brought us replacement tomato babies. The surviving squash and cucumber are blossoming like mad, big yellow and orange blossoms. I may have to improvise row covers to carry them through the frosty weather. I have an abundant dandelion and yarrow crop as well. That was unintentional. I will let the yarrow grow, as I use a lot of it in the winter. I will dig some dandelion roots.

We have plenty of food for the month, although funds are very short. I am saving the rest of my gasoline to go to an appointment with Immigration Canada on August 23rd. I’m hoping some sort of document can be provided so that I can cross the border without trouble. I would then have the option of working in Maine at least part-time, and I could see my family and American friends again. I have not had a meeting with Bishop Miller yet. He is on vacation right now, and I have asked if it would be possible to meet when he returns.

I do want to work. My husband pointed out that I do keep writing, even if the pay is almost nonexistent. He would like me at home as much as possible. I think he is still very uncertain about staying alone. I think we can find ways to manage if I can return to work.

But I was called to ministry, and I do what I can even if I am not licensed, nor get paid for the work. Laboring in the vineyard of the Lord is its own reward. It isn’t light work, even if people have the impression that is indoors with no heavy lifting. It is a state of mind and spirit as much as anything, a refusal to get sidetracked by the world, a sharp focus on following Jesus Christ rather than the beguilements of a popular culture of indulgence.

Crofting: Goatplay


I don’t think that George and Wanda, the goat gang’s previous owners, let goats into the house. They are responsible, serious, professional goat ranchers, and goats in the house probably isn’t a frequent occurrence. I have never let goats in the house. My experience with bottle-fed lambs taught me very quickly that ruminants, in general, need to be outside of the house unless they are small enough to be confined to a big cardboard box. That isn’t long because even very young lambs and kids can jump out of the average Charmin case after about a week.

So why did Vanilla think she should come inside with me?

She is the friendliest and smartest of the three goats. Tara is the most goat-like and the most agile. She can clamber over the dividing wall between the goat stalls, and can squeeze through narrow gaps around the gates. I suspect that if she were allowed to run free, she would soon find a perch on top of the truck or the neighbours’ shed. Bucky, poor thing, is a mere lame-brained buck. He is now sporting a nice lump of a contusion from trying to crawl through a gate gap in Tara’s wake. This is his second nasty lump, although this one is not as inflamed as the deerfly bite/bee sting he had before. I expect this one to be reduced internally rather than breaking like the last one. That was an awful job to clean and bandage, although he was good and stoic about all his treatment.

I left them in a barn stall all morning as we were headed to the farmer’s market, which was a disappointment. I remember it as an active, packed market, but today there were just a couple of vendors with produce – a late spring had stalled most gardens – and a few women with baked goods. I don’t often buy other people’s baking, as mine is usually better and certainly cheaper. A number of ladies had tables covered with knit goods and sewing, there were some woodcrafts, and a couple of flea market type vendors. There is a pork dealer and a beef seller, but their selection was small and more than I could afford. Perhaps it will pick up later in the month, but I came away with only a quart of strawberries and a pound of tomatoes. I do believe a greenhouse operation that could offer salad greens, hothouse tomatoes, peppers and herbs early int he season would do well here, if the cost of keeping the greenhouse was low enough. And I’m dubious about baked goods. I expect artisan bread to be presented beautifully, not shoved into plastic bags and stacked like cordwood. My standards are high after working beside Nick and his family at the Moncton Farmer’s market, and after the artistic displays of home baking at the St. Jacob’s Market. Laying out a dozen pallid, plastic-wrapped pies on a folding table isn’t an appealing presentation either. There were no artisan cheesemakers, maple syrup or honey vendors, and no herbalists, just a couple selling greenhouse flats of petunias and other annuals. There’s no tea blender or gourmet coffee emporium. If anyone had been selling eggs, they must have finished early and left. There’s lots of room for growth there, and the managers should be soliciting for vendors, not  relying on the same old country band every week to amuse the shoppers and give people a reason to show up. I’ve been hearing that same band for about fifteen years now, and I can honestly say that a little variety would spice up the event. Maybe the Mennonites could send their choir, or the local folk-rock singers could take a gig. Farmer’s markets are the growing trend, but I know from experience that when they stop being markets where people can buy from farmers, they might as well call themselves craft shows or flea markets and give up.

When we returned, I put goats out on their pickets. Tara was clipped to the clothesline to give her more scope and less chance of tangling her own silly feet in her tether. Instead, she got the tether wrapped around Vanilla’s neck. Vanilla managed to get free of her own clip, and sat down patiently to wait for me. I check on the goats every few minutes, and Tara sensing that something was wrong, stood over Vanilla. I went out and untangled them. This is the one of the reasons why animals cannot be left unattended on picket. They get tethers wound around legs and necks, or they they tie themselves tightly to a post. They get stranded in hot sunlight, or can’t reach the water bucket. I will never tether an animal and leave.

Vanilla had been ecstatic about getting out in the fresh air and sunshine. She actually gambolled as she came across the lawn from the barn. I’ve never seen her act so frisky. Bucky came at a trot behind her. I had Tara on her lead, as she is a pest to catch once loose. The other two will stand and wait, most of the time.

I moved Tara to a picket farther down the lawn, and clipped Vanilla to the clothesline. This allowed her to investigate the doorstep. She was pleased to find a little grain in a bucket, so she ate that. Then she hung out on the stoop, craning her neck to look in the window. She knew I was on the other side of the door, and she may have deduced that this is the place where the grain is kept.

The wind came up after a couple of hours, and with it there was a suggestion of rain and a few wet drops. This is a little known fact of natural history we were not taught in school: Goats are made out of sugar. If goats stay out in the rain, they will melt into sticky puddles of sweet goat syrup. No one knows this until they have goats, who panic and stampede if four drops of rain should touch their precious, precious spun sugar goat bodies.

So I let them off their leads and ordered them to the barn. It seemed, though, it wasn’t raining on the barn side of the road, and this allowed for browsing the hedgerow, and checking to see if the bean plants in the garden were as delectable as they looked. I drove them out of the garden and they settled for raspberry foliage and rosebushes. A small amount of grain shaken in a pail, and they remembered the impending disaster of a downpour and got themselves into the barn, lining up in the stall before the feed trough.

And though the shower has blown over, there they will stay until I have the gumption to risk another go-round with goats.

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 – 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.


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.


Crofting – Finally, A Dry Day

Landscape with Man and Goats

Sunshine, finally! Weeks of rain and cool temperatures, and finally a day over 20C. The hsuband took the tiller for a spin as the garden had drained off enough by afternoon to run through it. the goats – two here – were out for a nibble. Tara, who is dark brown, got herself into the vapours quickly and had to be returned to a shady barn. She resented it a lot, and stood in the stall, calling her head off. Vanilla would snicker at her now and then, but the grass and leaves were so lovely…She soon forgot Tara’s problems.

Starting to look like a garden plot!

The first plot has been tilled three times now – I will rake it tomorrow and start adding some amendments, ash and manure. Then work it over again, and start planting.

Clean and dry clothes!

My work today – lots of laundry. It was blowing a gale at times. Taking in wash was like furling sails on a squarerigger rounding the Horn. It certainly dried fast, except for the aprons and shirts that blew into odd nooks of the lawn.

Selfportrait in prairie bonnet

I am not actually as red as I look here!


Ants, Grasshoppers, and one last Rant about Squirrels

I took the garden down this morning, picking all the green tomatoes and little peppers left to make into green tomato pickles (see Thoughts for Food later on how this goes!) It’s a bit melancholy to pull the plants, even those still healthy, and toss everything away. But there’s no chance now that new fruit will set, with nights into freezing temperatures (SW Ontario, fairly mild, so northern friends have already done this and seen the first snow.)

Once it’s done, though, it looks so clean and fresh, and with a little raking and mulching, ready for next spring. Not that it was a particularly good garden spot, too many trees, too much flooding from runoff from the roof, and of course, the everlasting squirrels.

Some people, many of us raised in rural families with traditional values, are the ants of society. We anxiously stockpile food through the summer, canning and freezing and maybe dehydrating. We watch the garden with an eye to the future, because we intend for today’s produce to last into next year. This goes beyond mere thriftiness. It may be some deep-seated ancestral memory or brain pattern adaptation or whatever we are calling it these days. Maybe it’s just common sense. Tomatoes and pears do not grow over the winter, so save some for later. Good little ant, storing seeds underground.

Grasshoppers flit about all through the warm months, revelling in the sun and sweet breeze, feasting while the feasting is good. Someone else will have enough set aside, right? There’s always the supermarket…Of course, grasshoppers have a good old time, lay a lot of eggs to winter over, and then die. Ants survive the winter by going deep and allocating food supplies to last until spring. But maybe the ants don’t have much fun.

We can get a little too antish, after all. We’ve got our gardening noses stooped down to the ground, picking out weeds and insects, and never lift our heads to enjoy the sunlight and green canopy above. We scurry our harvest inside, get it put up in jars and laid down in root cellars, and we barely stop long enough to gather a handful of wild strawberries to eat while they are still sun-warm. (You know those U-Pick farms? They must have to figure in a certain weight of produce consumed in the field that never makes it to the scales. I think I should get a discount there – I pick fast, clean, and with industry, never sampling the produce. Ingrained reflex from picking potatoes as a kid – “Get those rows picked up, girls!”)

The Lord decreed the sabbatical year, the Seventh Year. Israel was to let the fields lie fallow, and not even pick the wildings, leaving those for the poor. The people of God were to trust that the Sixth Year harvest would be sufficient for two years. Maybe the sabbatical year was no year of great feasting, but it should be a year of gratitude and extra prayer. The Jubilee Year was a sabbath of sabbaths (seven times seven) and in the Jubilee year not only were the sabbatical precepts called for – slaves freed, debts forgiven – but all land that had passed from its original family was returned. Land was not sold in perpetuity. No one could amass huge estates and pass them on to future generations; the land was redistributed once a generation. That was the idea, anyway. Although decreed by the Lord and no mistake about that, humans worked out ways to get around it. Looking for ways to circumvent the Way of the Lord seems to me to be just saying, “I don’t believe any of that God stuff, anyway.”

Jesus Christ did not free us from the Jubilee. He declared it as perpetual, that the kingdom is realized, and that everything we receive will be directly from the hand of God. (As it always was!) More importantly, debt forgiveness was to be perpetual: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those in debt to us.” Yes, literally “debt” in Greek, literally owing something to someone else. Forgiveness is to be radical, both of real debt and sinful debt. Forgive others, so that the Father in heaven will forgive you. Think of the implications if we tried to live this way!

We had a poor harvest this year, mainly because of rodents. Neighbours think the squirrels are cute little outdoor pets, and encourage them. I see them as devastating tree rats with fluffy tails. They stole new tomatoes and peppers, chewed on plants, uprooted peas and seedlings. I had enough beautiful healthy plants that I should have had jars of tomatoes put up by now. We will probably see a few green tomatoes ripen inside, and the rest made into about two quarts of pickles. We can’t expect to survive the winter on that!

So we will have to trust in the Lord’s favour. Maybe it’s not so hard for us anyway, living in an affluent country that grows more food than its people can use, having neighbors and friends and family to help us if things get tough – as Christians should. But what of those people who don’t have a social safety net, whose own neighbors and family are as destitute as themselves? Aren’t they our neighbors, too? Aren’t they included in the great Jubilee of the Lord?

Yes, they are, and if we wealthy North Americans don’t do something about this soon, we will have a lot to answer for on the Day of Doom. (Doom is the Anglo-Saxon word for Judgement, and don’t forget it!) Are we more concerned with buying peanuts for the backyard squirrels than we are for providing lentils, rice, fruit and clean water to children in sub-Sahara Africa or cyclone devastated India?

Our Lord gave us some pretty clear instructions on how to live in this world; it’s about time to get them out and start following them again.