This has been one of the busiest Springs we’ve ever had. There’s been no time to update our blog so here is a quick photo compilation of some of the happenings that have transpired over the past couple months.
In early spring I began cleaning up and clearing a bit more space for our garden area and septic field.
The garden is doing well, we have all the usual vegetables and I decided to put in a big bed of Sugar Beets this year. It was a staple crop on our farm when I was young, sugar beet syrup was made with them and used as a sweetener much like honey.
Since building the saw and drying sheds many people have asked if I build these to sell. I’ve always turned down requests up until about a month ago when Tracey’s uncle inquired about one followed by a neighbor requesting one. I caved and committed myself to building these two.
These are just a few of the things that we’ve done. We still regularly make batches of soap, pick wild herbs and tend to the numerous other daily chores and commitments. I’m now allotting specific portions of each day to work on building our house.
Spring has passed into Summer. There never seems to be enough time in a day to get everything done. The school year is over, Where has the time gone?
A Homestead and Homesteading today is quite different from its practice during the pioneer days. We still have the abilities to live self-sufficiently on a small piece of land however many of the techniques and tools to establish a homestead have changed. My childhood was spent on a Homestead however we did not consider ourselves Homesteaders …. it was our way of life based on my parents upbringing and experience. My parents grew up in Europe through the second World War, a time of great despair and transition. After the war the last remnants of a once predominant Agrarian society were in the final stages of decline. Traditional farming methods and a self-sufficient livelihood were being replaced with mechanization and corporate structuring. My parents clung to their traditional roots and this is the primary reason they decided to immigrate to Canada, so they could enjoy the freedom to live as they choose.
I was very fortunate to come of age in a farming environment even though as a child one may not perceive it as fortunate. The endless daily chores, the seclusion and did I mention the chores. Our farm could not be considered typical for it’s time, it was more a throw back to farming practices prevalent at the turn of the century and prior. Everything we did was done by hand, to the extreme. In the early stages we mowed all our fields (approximately 8 acres) by hand using only a scythe and rake. I recall one fine summer day when my father took me into the woods carrying his bow saw and small hatchet. I curiously watched him as he selected several young poplar saplings, cut them down and peeled the bark off using the hatchet. He next cut a couple of the thinner poles into short even lengths and sharpened one end of each into a point with the hatchet. We gathered the cut pieces, took them home to the little workshop my father had upstairs. He cut a piece about 32″ long from one of the poles and placed it into the vice. Next he placed 14 evenly spaced marks on the piece in the vise and with a brace and bit carefully drilled holes through at each mark. Then he took the sharpened pegs he had cut in the woods and sized them so they would fit into the holes. Once all the pegs were positioned he wedged them in place. He drilled a larger perpendicular hole through the center of the pegged piece and sized the end of a long pole to fit into this hole. He wedged the pole into place and a wooden rake was born. He presented me with this creation and said ” This is yours, it will help to flip and rake together our field of hay” We then proceeded to the field and he taught me how to flip the hay and once it was dry I was taught how to gather it together and then pile it, carefully “combing” each large pile (hocke) so it would shed rain.
This is just one of the many lessons I learned on our farm and a fond memory I keep close to my heart. My next story will be how I was taught to Pull and not Push.
A homestead or farm presents many skill requirements and numerous young people are willing to learn these important skills. Acquiring apprentices is an important means to assure the continuation of small farms and farming, as well as teaching youth the essential skills of basic survival. I have had the opportunity to share the many facets of my woodworking skills with several apprentices over the years but have never considered passing on the extent of my other learning in natural subsistence and sustainable survival skills. I have decided to seek out prospective applicants for a program formatted towards essential farming/homesteading skills. The mission of this endeavor is to enhance our relationship with the rural Cape Breton landscape by applying and teaching the essential skills of sustainable living and small-scale farming, thus invigorating a more functional collaborative community. Over the next few weeks I will draft an application including a detailed outline for this program.
Focus for this program will include Organic Gardening, Sustainable Forestry, Traditional Arts and Cottage Crafts, Renewable Energy, Alternative building, Herbology just to mention a few. Stay Tuned for further details!
We were teased with a bit of snow and temperatures barely over freezing for the past week. A steady fire has been burning for at least 3 weeks now in the wood stove, keeping the chill out and making for cozy evenings.
The first row in the wood pile has a definite chew out of it and over the next few months one row after the other will slowly disappear. A blanket of bark and splinters will be left behind covered with the hundreds of cobwebs that the spiders spun between the wood over the past summer.
Several days ago I began construction on a small drying shed for the lumber I am cutting. It’s not a very big enclosure but will be helpful to store the sawn lumber out of the weather. I’m using marginal material for this shed, lumber which has some defects yet is structurally stable enough to use for this purpose.
The cold damp weather halted construction for several days however today the skies cleared and brought with it very warm temperatures. I was able to finish boarding in the walls and the roof.
I was also able to cut up a cord of firewood from the slab pile. This will be going to the neighbors up on the mountain. Nothing at the mill goes to waste, I bag the sawdust to use for bedding animals and for mulching beds in the garden.
With more fine weather in the forecast I may be able to catch up with the many errands still to be done before the real snow starts flying.
It’s been a musical week with Kieth Mullins having a house concert at their new place on Hunters Mountain last Friday and Ian Foster having one at a neighbors house in Middle River last night. Both were wonderful and a nice respite from the work and a great chance to mingle with neighbors.
We have a new addition to the family. A red lady that boasts having 43 horses packed under her hood along with an antique back blade. Both these will help to speed up progress at the building sight.
With some new draft pins, a new center link, new bolts and pins the back blade is ready for some serious work. My back is feeling better already and the blisters on my hands are slowly disappearing, I hope I don’t turn into a softy.
The garden plot for our neighbor on Hunters Mountain is finally in. Hanna and Liam helped her yesterday, along with the occasional overbearing instructions from me. The rain expected from Hurricane Andria should help everything in the garden sprout up.
Spring is in full swing now and it’s hard to believe that we are fast approaching the second week of June already. Time slips by too fast and several bureaucratic delays have virtually halted work at the building site. In the meantime we can enjoy the wonderful blossoms of late spring and the whirring of June-bugs in the evening air.
Earlier this year we had resolved not to put in much of a garden, mostly due to our new location and the overwhelming time constraints with all the scheduled work ahead. However …. after +/- 1600 shovels of turned sod a small plot has emerged in our back yard. This will provide a small space for a fellow gardener while she develops her own land for future gardens.
The gardening has been very delayed this year mostly due to the continued frosts and damp weather. Despite all the unseasonal cool spring weather we now have a profusion of blossoms. The apple trees have outdone themselves and are literally overflowing with blossoms.
The bees now have a fresh feast to enjoy in the apple orchard as all the dandelions turn into fluffy puff balls.
A cascade of white Spirea blossoms greets us at the corner of the porch and the Lilac blossoms will open soon and exhale their sweet aroma into the air.
It’s been a frosty weekend. Heavy rain Saturday and barely above freezing yesterday with a brisk wind, not at all nice for putting in a garden or working on the house. Yesterday morning a white skiff of snow was visible on the trees up in the Highlands and the frost we had last night was so hard it decimated many of the bedding plants in the greenhouse. The nasturtiums were hit the hardest, killing most of them.
In the woods and around the yard everything is budding and ready to explode. The maples, elderberry and service-berry trees are in bloom. The fiddle-heads are unfurling slowly and the large leaf buds on the Mountain Ash have unfolded.
It’s time to start harvesting wild herbs again. The first to be picked is Stinging Nettle which is already several inches tall. I have to remember my gloves next time, it was a bit itchy picking this first batch without gloves or cutters. Yarrow is also ready and is next on the list to be picked.
In the herb bed at home the Chives and Soap-wort are growing well. The kitchen herb patch has a “Steam-punk” theme to it this year, I hauled old cast iron stove parts out of the embankment and made them into plant pots. I think it works great but Tracey thinks I’m losing it.
Silas and I have been watching a nesting pair of geese at the beaver-dam. The gander watches us and tries to lead us away from the nest. Silas gets so excited each time we see the geese. He tries to imitate all the bird calls we hear and so far he does the goose call the best. It will be exciting to see the little geese when they hatch in about a week or so.
Yesterday we spent a day with our kids and the students from the Middle River School visiting a farm in Margaree that makes Maple Syrup. It was a fantastic outing and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. Even though we home-school, our kids have been invited to participate in activities at this little school. It provides wonderful interaction for them and we will integrate them into this local two classroom school in September.
With Silas strapped to my chest we joined the troop and slowly hiked up the mountain following the Tap Line winding through the maple forest. The trail gradually steepened as we ascended and the main Tap Line came in handy for many, assisting the ascent up the steep section.
The kids had a blast and as you can see Angela (the Middle River School principle) is also beaming on the hike. There are 600 maple trees tapped on this slope providing an abundance of sweet nectar for many future pancakes and other delights.
Everyone, both young and old, made it up the steep grade. The descent back down a side trail was much easier. A wonderful reward awaited us at the bottom. After having some snacks/lunch we were greeted to Maple Syrup Taffy. A pot of hot maple syrup was brought out. Everyone made a clean snowball and some hot syrup was drizzled on top. With the help of a wooden stick the cooled syrup was wrapped around the end creating a delicious sweet natural lollipop.
We also had an opportunity to bottle some fresh syrup and without any hesitation we purchased one.
Later in the afternoon I picked up some local farm eggs and made homemade pancakes topped with what else but fresh Mountain Nectar (Margaree Maple Syrup). A SWEET day overall in Cape Breton.
Outside our window: Long spindly shadows slowly crawling across the field as the sun sets behind the trees.
I am thinking: It’s Tuesday already and so much to get done before the end of the week.
I am hoping: The weather will stay nice for a few more days so I can get things done outside.
I am listening to: The soft rumble of Tracey’s serger upstairs as she finishes one of her wool diaper covers.
I am creating: Some soil for new seedlings to take root in.
I am thankful for: My parents (Oma and Opa) who instilled good work ethic and taught me the satisfaction you gain from your labors.
From the kitchen: Rustling paper as Hanna digs for crackers.
Around the house: The last rays of evening sun cast across the floor.
A Moment In Time