Monday, 26 September 2011

Peanut on Assignment :: this Land that we Love

Last week Maggie asked if we could tell a little more about our land, now I  didn't ask her to specify so I hope Peanut and I did a good job, Maggie!

Warning, there is a little bit of Rat Terrier worship in this post...I could not resist including photos of her too

 We're off!  

Peanut is so very excited when I grab the car keys and say 'come-on Peanut..' She runs out the door then jumps up for joy with her two front paws on my legs, every time.

Although we are not Ontario natives - both born and raised in Quebec - we think of Eastern Ontario as home. We've lived here since our mid-twenties and we absolutely love this land. At this time of the year, early fall when the colours are turning in the trees and we have warm, sunny days, it's perfect. As we drove home this morning from taking a car in for an oil change hubbie voiced exactly what I was thinking as we once again admired the countryside: At this time of year especially, one is very grateful to live in the country.

We currently live on some 80 plus acres of very very old farmland. We bought it from a farmer, through a Real Estate Agent and had Hubbie not called around about other properties to many agents we would never have know about this land because as is very common in Rural areas, it's all about who you know and it's word of mouth. The farmer had told the agent that if she found someone ready to pay his price per acre, he'd consider selling but he never listed the land. This farmer is in fact not much of a farmer, he inherited all the land from his parents - you know how it goes, the farm passes from generation to generation. In essence, he is selling it to make some extra income as he certainly is not farming his own land.

I never saw this land before we owned it. We sold our Straw Bale house (which is about 10 minutes drive from here) when we decided to RV full time. We felt we needed to maintain a Canadian Address so we bought the land while living in an RV in Virginia (Hubbie drove home to take care of everything). Nowadays it is very difficult to find this much land that is treed as ours is so we knew we could resell it. We had no idea where or when we would resettle in Canada - we are very nomadic and are always looking for the next place to live.

Hubbie walked the land and saw both it's potential (hardwood trees everywhere) and it's flaws (low-lying wetlands) but the potential far outweighs the flaws and we decided to buy it. Buying land for the first time (this is our 4th land purchase in this area , crazy but true) is not easy as getting a loan for land is not like getting a mortgage. We started small (11 acres) and found a wonderful builder who shouldered the cost until we could get a true mortgage for a completed house (much easier than a construction loan) and this was because he knew that even if we, in our late 20's and looking like we were decent folk, were not able to finally get the mortgage or backed out on him, well he knew he could sell the house to someone else. This builder is a local farmer and businessman and a very wealthy one at that. So we started with that house but our dream was a straw bale house and no mortgage. So we sold the first house when we found the land for the straw bale house - it was 56 acres and very affordable and just down another road so Hubbie drove the tractor over there for an entire summer to flatten a stone wall into the base for our 1000 foot driveway (we wanted to be totally hidden and we were)  We asked the agent to ask the current owner if we could buy now but close in 6 months when we hoped our house would be sold and could pay for the land. So now we had 56 acres and we built the Straw Bale house. We basically no longer had a mortgage because we did it all ourselves and we built a lovely modest home (I'll show you pictures another time) . What we had left to pay  was more like a car loan - and that had been the goal. I was now a stay-at-home dog mom - I was desperate to be home full time and when you are desperate, you make it work. Then an adjoining parcel of land came-up for sale (55 acres) and it had a huge trail that lead directly to a lake that our property abutted but we could not easily reach (it is all marsh) We once again 'made it work' by discussing the purchase with the owners - a family whose mother had owned the land and they had inherited.  Later when finances grew tight we had to ask my sister-in-law to buy half of that land so we could keep it and once we sold it (to RV full time) we both made a generous profit. If you have been keeping track, we have built 3 houses within 10 minutes of one-another. So that brings us back to where we are today. I can tell you I had no true plans to build another house but in the end it was decided. It is very very expensive to buy what we have built - a decent sized house on this amount of land - that is why we have had to build every time. The build of this house was a nightmare but now it is done and we have the perfect house 'for us'. It's super-insulated, it has Hubbie's long awaited Masonry Heater to keep it all warm and cozy and it's a bungalow which is what we have grown to love being Greyhound people.

Driving down the driveway..notice it's bush - trees and wild flowers and grasses

Around us is a lot of new construction as folks retire and buy land and build (as I said, it's hard to find otherwise). There are a lot of horse people moving into our area so they are looking for open pastures.

Otherwise you see the lovely old farmhouses, barns and what we call Bush - scrub brush fields with mixed hardwood and evergreens and lots of cedar.

I love old farmhouses and their super long driveways, endless views and total privacy. We have never had the courage to buy an old farmhouse - they are not well insulated, have old plumbing and's too scary for us!

A typical view along the roads we drive daily - to me: absolutely beautiful.


Beef and Dairy cows everywhere

And lots of Bush

soybean fields are everywhere
Our land is wonderfully varied. We have a hardwood forest at the front near the house, open pasture then the Cedar forest and finally more pasture with the old farmhouse and then our land ends at this river. When we look at it from our land, we can't see it - all we see are wetlands, it's not much of a river!

This is the "river" which our land abutts. 

There is not a big taxpayer base in rural areas so you have to live with lots of gravel roads. Our services are pretty much limited to snow-clearing, garbage and recycle pickup and maintaining these roads.

This is our road

Someone recently purchased this land on our road and immediately planted soybeans.

Call me old fashioned but I prefer rectangular bales which you never see anymore. You do see a whole lot of these though...

Hay bales 
Now here is the thing about building on a new lot in the country. Everything is WILD. You have to (you don't HAVE to but ...) have a tractor - be it rented or purchased. We rented ours then bought it (the same one we rented) second-hand. We've had it almost 12 years and I don't know what we would do without it. This land is very very rocky and you can't put a spade into the ground without hitting stone.

Just figuring-out where to plop that house you are about to build is a very interesting question - look for high ground. How far from the road? Well, every Hydro pole is about $1200.00 before the Hydro wiring and hookup and the longer the driveway, the more fill you need to buy. Where will the septic bed go? Ours is in the middle of the back yard. Where to drill the well and what sort of water pressure will we get (we got very very lucky and have a gusher).  Which trees do we keep and which must go down - yes, you need a chainsaw.  The good news is, it's all great firewood and surely you will have a wood stove at the very least.

Beautiful HUGE old barn
Our first house had a big front and back yard which we grew tired of mowing (the lawn tractor is fun but still...) We went all out with perennial flower gardens and very sweet vegetable garden and we added a rudimentary screened-porch for mosquito nights.  When we moved to the next house we decided to keep grass to a bare minimum, build a beautiful huge vegetable garden and kept the perennial gardens to a bare minimum. Then Hubbie built the sweetest 4 season sun room as a step-up from the screened porch.

Here, at our new home, we are just on our second growing season but our focus is again on keeping just the back yard in grass for cutting (and we are back to a regular lawn mower to the amazement of many). We have lost our interest in perennial flower gardens because mother nature simply will not be contained and fighting weeds is just not how we want to spend our time. Hubbie would like to have a much more neatly landscaped area around the house and at the entrance to our driveway but it's positively wild. We hired a contractor with bulldozers to make our back yard which you see in so many images - they brought truckloads of fill and topsoil to make that yard and I spent weeks spreading grass seed, raking it and watering. You would be absolutely amazed to see what it looked like before it was 'created'. Hubbie will slowly clean-up the land but what is most important is our trails. We love our walks and again, without the tractor there is no way we would be as far as we have come in such a short time. These trails make the most of the land and are a source of peace, meditative walks, joy and beauty. In fact, for us the most important thing is the land, almost any house can be made cozy but the land you have is not easy to change.

 Another distant farmstead and lots of open pasture

Hay cut but not yet baled. We love the rolling hills of our area.

I wouldn't want to create the wrong picture for you, some people manage to build the ubiquitous 'suburban' style homes and grounds. They spend a lot of time and money to create this look but for me, that belongs in the suburbs. We each have our own tastes and whats so great is that we can each do what we like - it's a lot of fun driving down new roads to find what kind of house and homestead exists around the next corner.

Soybean fields left to dry before they are harvested.
As for our new homestead, we are focusing on the essentials: a garage/barn, a big vegetable garden and we plan to plough and plant some acreage a little ways back just beyond our back beehives. We love having chickens and would like to get Indian Runner ducks and some day a couple of donkeys

In these rural areas no one tells you that you can't have a clothesline or that you can only hang your laundry on weekdays. No one tells you what colour you house may be painted, and there is no zoning for adding a chicken coop or duck pond. We have freedom.

And as my friend's little guy Scottie said to me as we sat on the deck watching the's really quiet here. 

Yes it is. There is a hum of tractors, the distant train whistles and in the Fall there is shotgun firing which is why we wear orange hats and whistle so that hunters don't shoot us. At night we hear the hoot of an owl and the cackling of coyotes (much less now as there was a push to cull these packs last year - not something we agree with) The barking of dogs and mooing of cows intermingle with birdsong and nowadays, the errrrawk! of Pullets learning how to cluck. But mostly, it's extremely quiet. In wintertime, it is so very very silent.

Entrance to our driveway

And this is the end of our tour which ends at the wild entrance to our gravel driveway. With each new year we will make improvements and additions - thanks to our Kubota and Hubbie's love of being outdoors. I love stacking firewood in the middle of winter and gathering vegetables in the garden. The Pullets bring me great joy and the dogs love their huge back yard. For me, I have everything I need...oh but we definitely want to reduce the mosquito population in the vegetable garden. Definitely a priority. 

A demain, mes amies...

Friday, 16 September 2011

Weekday snapshots :: beans and bees

Bon Vendredi mes amies!
(Happy Friday my friends!)

The week started-off hot and summery and then suddenly yesterday the weather began to turn around and I celebrated (yep, I said celebrated) by pulling-out the Phentex slippers and had my cuppa tea outside in the cool, fresh air...

I also brought-out Charlie's blankie, the poor boy has barely any fur and he loves being snuggled under a blanket ...

A little Honeybee update

Today it's 9 degrees celsius and I'm worried about my Bee-girls.  Normally I would be very pleased and enjoying my ritual Cuppa Tea outside in the cold but my mind is on the honeybees. This is unseasonably cold weather and I need to get the bottom-boards back onto the hives - right now the hives are wide open on the bottoms with wire mesh keeping the bees in and predators out. 

To feed or not to feed...

I put-out some feeding stations this week, I set them up quite far from the hives because we have a wasp issue this year and I didn't want to attract wasps to the hives. I had a feeling that by putting the feed stations in new locations, the only thing I'd be feeding is wasps and so far, I'm correct. Ah well, I think that I fed the colonies enough sugar syrup already anyways, this second feed might have been too much and triggered too much brood rearing so I'm leaving it alone. If the honeybees find and use the feeders, good but if not, that's ok too...

Honeybees drown easily so the wood block is for them to use while drinking in the thick syrup

I can see this feeder from my master bathroom window and all I'm see is wasps...Isn't that Butterfly Bush a beauty? 

A whole new kind of headache...

When I took a peek at my colonies I noticed something very new - Drones! This is the first time this year that I have seen the Drones outside the hive and gathering around the entrance. I also witnessed one worker bee giving a Drone (see how much bigger the drones are?) a very hard time. Could it be that they have already been served their Eviction Notice? 

See the 2 big drones? They have no stingers. There are 2 in this photo on either side of the entrance hole

Here's a boy bee!

I watched carefully as the one at the top tried to re-enter the hive and notice the bottom one exiting...

Here is another one leaving the entrance
I also noticed that the worker bees were more active than I have ever witnessed before, I knew I was getting in the way, they were flying all over the place and I was being a tad too nosy and had no protective gear on. A few bee-girls got caught in my hair but got out but I still was too curious to get the message and so...OUCH and run!!!! Yep, a poor little worker bee got caught in my hair, panicked and stung me in the noggin. Lord that hurts. I iced it and for an hour I felt 'not so good' but  I got what I deserved. I checked all 4 colonies and witnessed the same at each hive entrance - Drones.  I did a bit of research and learned that Russian bees tend to evict the drones earlier than many other Honeybees so I've concluded that this is the case here. There are, of course, many other possible reasons but since I'm seeing the same pattern at all 4 hives, my money is on the Eviction theory. Poor drones...cute, aren't they?

Beans for Drying

I harvested what is possibly the last of the Kale and another nice bunch of red tomatoes. Hubbie pulled-out 3 more Cinderella pumpkins and I will soon harvest the 3 Marina Di Chioggia squash which were made famous by the book Animal Vegetable Miracle

 Rouge Vif D'Etampes  also known as Cinderella pumpkins

Red Russian Kale (on bottom) just keeps coming back after every harvest and isn't it beautiful?

Marina Di Chioggia  - Barbara Kingsolver says it's the best winter squash ever. To me it looks like a pain to get to the flesh....we shall see

But what really really excited me this week is our test plot of beans grown for drying. We planted them, they grew, they dried and I picked them. No trouble and look at the beauties!

Black Turtle Beans

Black Beauty Soybean

Tongue of Fire

A Magical evening to remember...

I had one of those oh so very special, unplanned moments that will remain logged in my memories..I had all the bean plants waiting to be dried (they are not all completely dry). Hubbie was flying home so it was me and the pooches. All the dogs had just had their dinner and so the Greyhounds had to stay indoors for one hour (to avoid the danger of bloat) but the little girls came out with me. It was at that special time of day when the sun is descending and the land is glowing deep yellow...I sat on the deck facing the Pullets who were munching on broccoli plants (seen further below) and then the little girls joined me...and they made me laugh....

What's in there? Smells very tasty dontcha think?

Peanut I don't think you oughtta be in there..the mama is watching us ya know...

mamma schmamma, Peanut has the mama wrapped around her little teensy tail...

What IS that nutty, beany smell???

Of course, you know I let Peanut taste one. Just one, mind you, she gets tummy aches...

Gotcha!...first you peel the outer pod...

Then you gently pick out the little black bean...


My two buddies

It is no wonder that soybeans are so popular - there are fields and fields of them all around us. They are so prolific! I counted and each branch had from 8 to 16 pods on it while the black turtle beans and tongue of fire might have had half this amount at the most.

Soybean pods are hairy

Not a huge harvest, this is all the beans - we were just trying it out and I think we will grow much more next year because so far I'm very excited!

As you can see, I had an aha! moment and realized the best way to dry these pods is to remove the pods from the plants and then dry them on some wire mesh in the basement. This worked magnificently and I will know when all the beans are dry as they will rattle in their pods.

Pullet entertainment....

All the while, as I plucked pods and the girls 'helped' I watched the pullets. I had tossed some broccoli plants into the run and a tomato which I tore in half.  I don't need to hold these greens for them and they have a good ole' time pecking at them. In the end, all that is left is a skeleton. Amazing.

 And watch as Bitty disappears into a tomato...

I find that the reds really love tomatoes...

I mean they really love their tomatoes

And I was happy to finally wear my new socks - the very first pair I have ever knit myself. I finished them just as warm temperatures had arrived and so they got their trial run this week. Amazing how such a fine wool can still be so very warm, my feet were very happy.

This was a very easy pattern to follow, so pleased with my new socks.
Knitting Pure & Simple - Beginner's Lightweight Socks
Lane Cervinia Forever
For more about these socks see my Ravelry page, my ID is Pinney

On a final note, if you can believe it, September 16th and hubbie is about to fire up the Masonry Heater, it's chilly in here!