Category Archives: Poultry

Duck Eggs Rule!

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Freshly washed eggs

The eggs just keep on coming. It must be Spring with an eggsess like this!

It’s Spring in Nova Scotia… I think! It’s really difficult to tell some days. Only a couple couple of days ago it was snowing hard enough to totally obscure one half of a brilliant blue sky, with the threat of nighttime temperatures of  6 degrees below. This was hard to take after a week or so of temperatures up in the teens. I think these erratic shifts are bothering me a lot more than any of the denizens here at QuackaDoodle who seem to be  undeterred and are laying up a Spring storm of their own.

Sign for Duck pen

Just in case all the quacking doesn’t identify the space!

 

 

 

 

The girls on the Duckville production line are insisting that I set the record straight. So here it is: Duck eggs rule. Really! From a nutritional stand point, Quackers against Cluckers, there’s just no contest; with more protein, more Omega 3 fatty acids, 3X the iron, over 5X vitamin B12 and so on. To be fair, ducks lay bigger eggs therefore more calories (130 versus 71) and more cholesterol (619mg versus 211mg).

However, there are several health benefits to duck eggs that I believe far outweigh that one negative:

Usually people with an allergy to chicken eggs can eat duck eggs and apparently they are an alkaline protein source (as opposed to chicken eggs which are acidic).  This makes them a beneficial anti-cancer food as cancer cells tend not to thrive in an alkaline environment.

Athletes in training prefer duck eggs because of their additional power boost.

Their thicker shell means they keep fresher much longer (the eggs, not the athletes).

And they are any baker’s dream come true  as the extra albumin makes for much lighter, fluffier pastries.

Last, but definitely not least is the taste; so much richer and creamier and reason enough to pick duck over chicken eggs anytime!

To self “There, if that doesn’t keep those little quackers happy, nothing will!”

Brussel sprouts in a pan

Brussel sprouts sauted in butter with a little ground pepper are Delicious!

I dug the last of my leeks today and salvaged a Brussel sprout stalk that didn’t get picked in the fall. The outer leaves were a bit raggedy and the sprouts were on the small side (probably why they were not harvested) but man did they ever taste delicious! I used to boil Brussel sprouts but that was a big mistake. They are three times more tasty sauted in butter with some fresh ground pepper. Seeing my neighbour’s children gobbling up Brussel sprouts as if they were candy was my Eureka moment regarding Brussels sprouts. That was when I knew I’d been cooking them the wrong way all these years.

I have lots of hardy greens (tat soi, pak choy, kale, chard, etc.) coming up already and surprisingly a whole patch of mache which survived the winter unscathed, along with some raspberry vinegar ‘lettuce’ which is actually sorrel. Their winter housing was shredded in a storm and they were unprotected for most of the winter. I thought they would have at least turned bitter but no, if anything the taste of the sorrel has softened slightly and the mache is just as crisp as ever. I’m impressed!

Kale growing

This kale overwinter to provide a most welcome first salad

Rasberry vinegar sorrel

This hardy raspberry vinegar ‘lettuce’ or sorrel was hardy enough to survive the winter unprotected

mache or corn salad

The sweet nutty flavour of mache or ‘corn salad’ is especially welcomed in the spring

My green house was also shredded in a storm and this is creating quite a problem as I’m running out of sunny places to lay out all my early starts. And let’s face it, they’re not really ‘early’  at this time of year. In the past my over-enthusiasm has resulted in some very ‘leggy’ transplants that were started too early and outgrew the confines of their starter pots long before the last frost. Now I tend to err on the other side of perfect and leave things a bit late 😦 By now, it’s definitely time to have everything that’s needs starting indoors seeded in their starter pots, I think, so guess what I’ll be doing for the rest of the day!

Tender greens

This selection of early greens started in clear plastic commercial salad boxes are ready to be transplanted outside

My book, Permaculture For the Rest of Us has been getting lots of positive attention. Below I have posted a link to an interview I did last week on Covenant Agrarian Resistance Radio. It’s two hours long, which in my book is a bit much to listen to all at once, but you might want to play it while preparing supper or seeding pots.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/christian-farm-and-homestead/2016/04/23/jenni-blackmore-permaculture-for-the-rest-of-us

Also, Kathryn Robles at kathryn@farmingmybackyard.com has been very generous in her review of my book. She also has a really informative site that is well worth visiting.

Also, and these just in, more sites (and reviews of Permaculture For The Rest of Us) that are really worth visiting:

http://www.lilsuburbanhomestead.com/permaculture-for-the-rest-of-us

http://www.countingmychickens.com/permaculture-rest-us-giveaway

http://finamoon.blogspot.com/2016/04/permaculture-for-rest-of-us-abundant.html

They are all give away a free copy of Permaculture For The Rest of Us!

Anyone living in the Halifax area might be interested to know that QuackaDoodle duck eggs are available at:

The Grainery 2385 Agricola Street. This  food co-op is open Tuesday through Saturday and is run on a volunteer basis by members. I love going there as I always feel like I’m dealing with kindred spirits. http://www.thegrainery.ca

 

 

 

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It Never Ceases to Amaze!

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Close up of mixed greens growing exuberantly

The new ‘kitchen garden’, a hugel bed constructed last fall has become an edible jungle

 

Once again the garden beds have transformed into a jungle of the freshest food! I’m amazed. I probably shouldn’t be, seeing as much the same thing happens every year, but in truth I don’t ever want to see this fecundity as anything less than a series of little miracles. I mentioned building hugel beds in the previous post and  the new kitchen garden hugel provides a perfect example of how well this system actually works. Prolific. Energetic. Exuberant. All good words to describe the growth pattern in this food jungle.

 

Also mentioned in the previous post was the Spring planted garlic. It was planted late (obviously, seeing as it should have been planted in the Fall) but if the scapes are anything to go by, it hasn’t suffered too much of a set back.  Garlic scape pesto is so easy to make; just a matter of putting scapes, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil in the blender.  It’s delicious, versatile and keeps for several months when frozen. So convenient to add to soups and pasta dishes. Love it!

 

A blackcurrant branch with fruit

Blackcurrants ready to harvest

The blackcurrant bushes have outdone themselves again this year. Some of the branches are breaking down under the weight of the fruit they bear. Of course this means lots of jam making, and this year I’m also making pie filling preserves. Blackcurrants don’t seem to be as popular here as they are in the U.K. and I’m not sure why  because blackcurrants seem to prefer the cool Springs and late starts to Summer we experience here on the east coast, which are similar to the weather patterns  I remember from my childhood in England. The berries are very high in vitamin C and have a distinctive taste: sweeter than redcurrants with slightly more tang than blueberries. They really are delicious.

 

 

 

 

Head of Broccoli waiting to be harvested

Broccoli plant which produced many flowerlets after the head was harvested

The cooler weather also seemed to favour the broccoli which provided some magnificent heads. I also planted a variety that keeps sprouting flowerlets, rapidly and repeatedly, after the main head has been cut. This strain is really great and I’d certainly plant it again. Other years I’ve planted strains that promise to do this but have never found them very satisfactory until now. I find having a continual (but smaller) harvest much more convenient than one  harvest of larger heads.

 

It’s encouraging to be enjoying these successes because for a while it seemed that the three R’s were out to get us. Rodents, Racoons and Ravens that is, the latter being the worst. When a pair of ravens first moved into the neighbourhood it seemed like a pretty cool thing, to anyone such as myself who had never experienced their brand of corvid malevolence. They are very, very smart. That’s the only nice thing I can think of to say about them after they took out most of our ducks, just at the time when they were nesting. It was really very sad, finding half eaten carcasses and egg shells scattered all along the back shore.

These ravens became so brazen that they thought nothing of strutting right inside the turkey and goose sheds to clear out all the eggs. We never did see exactly how they transported eggs off site or how they scared the sitting hens off their nests. Fortunately we were able to save three ducks and a clutch of eleven eggs, all of which hatched. These off-spring will probably not be pure bred (Khaki Campbell and Indian Runner) like their parents were,  but hopefully will still be good layers. Things are much bleaker for turkey and goose progeny. There just won’t be any this year as the ravens took every egg. Grrrrrr!

For a while it was starting to feel that we were extras in a remake of Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, especially when Calum noticed an eagle sitting on a tree close by. I thought he was King of the Birds, and perhaps he did too until a posse of Greater Black Back Gulls came along and sent him packing. Fortunately they didn’t stick around because I’d hate to even imagine the carnage they could have caused.

Eagle with Greater Black Back Gulls attacking

Attack of the Black Backs

Eagle lifting off from top of Sruce tree

I’m outta’ here

 

eagle in tree

King of the Birds?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Head of Romaine lettuce

Giant Romaine just waiting to become a magnificent Cesar salad

On a happier note, the weather these past couple of weeks has provided perfect growing conditions and everything seems to double in size almost overnight, every night. It’s crazy! And wonderful. Anyone for another Caesar? Salad that is.

Seems like once again I’m posting observations quite a while after the were written. S’okay! It’s Summertime. My go to reasoning for all ineptitudes. In actuality September has  just arrived and everything in the garden seems very aware of the need to make seed  and the squash plants, many of them sprung from who knows where, are beginning to block walkways and climb up trees. Definitely time to be gathering herbs for drying.

 

 

 

 

 

Cilantro in flower and going to seed

Cilantro transforming into Coriander

It’s really cool to see Cilantro transforming into Coriander. Sort of its own personal metamorphosis. I also love working in around Chamomile as it smells so lovely and the delicate flowers just seems to smile welcome. I let it grow wild between the rows as much for this as for the great tea it makes.

A mass of small, daisy-like flowers with some branches of tomatoe plants and beet leaves showing at the edges

Chamomile flowers smiling up from between the rows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A three tier herb planter.

Herb planter by the kitchen door is so convenient

I’m already dreading the time when I won’t be able to reach out my kitchen door for a handful of help to spice up supper. Having a herb planter within easy reach of the kitchen door is truly a wonderful gift. Thank you Calum!

We ended up getting several roosters in the new batch of chickens we acquired several weeks ago to increase our layer flock. Singing cock-a-doodle doesn’t come easy apparently and requires much practice. With them housed in a chicken tractor not far from the bedroom window sleeping in has become little more than a distant memory. They insist on having the last word. Except when it comes to having their picture taken. Whenever I go near with the camera the roosters all scurry towards the back of the enclosure leaving the young hens to deal with the perceived incursion. Definitely all talk, no action!

Several teenaged chickens outside in a 'chicken tractor" which is an outdoor enclosure that can be moved around

Morning chorus all hiding in the back

Written in May, posted in July :-( How did that Happen?

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Finally, two consecutive days of sun. How wonderful is that? Despite the unseasonable cold and dismal weather the various minions of QuackaDoodle have been celebrating Spring for  a month or more.

Two Beltsville White turkeys fluffed up with thjeir tail feathers fanned

Beltsville whites strutting their stuff

The turkeys have decided they truly are the handsomest of birds, that just one look is all it takes to set the hearts of hens a flutter, so all they do is strut their stuff majestically.

The drakes, on the other hand seem to spend all their time chasing ducks, except for one exception, the little duck who thought he could … mate with a goose, that is. This little guy, a pseudo orphan, was brought up alone for his first few weeks and nobody thought to tell him he was a duck, and a gimpy one at that. He’s convinced he’s a goose, and further more a goose destined to be Lucy’s (one of our female Pilgrim geese) true love. After transitioning through various stages of astonishment, irritation and exasperation, Lucy has succumbed to his advances, so who knows perhaps in a few weeks we’ll have a flock of little gucks waddling around.

Our dog Juno checking out a day old Meat King chick

Nurse Juno checking out a day old Meat King chick

In the meantime we have acquired our first run of Meat King chicks. At a day old they seem like relatively normal baby birds but after a week or so their phenomenal growth rate hasalready started to become apparent. This year we plan to be much more diligent with our harvesting arrangements to avoid ending up with the Godzilla birds we grew last Fall.

Recently I read a truly comforting statement which I’d love to share: There are best practices and then there is real life. Remembering this made me feel so much better about planting my garlic crop a couple of weeks ago.

 

 

 

a box of sprouted garlic with some bulbs laying on soil

This garlic overwintered in the basement and is beginning to sprout

Sure, garlic should be planted in the Fall and allowed to winter over for harvesting the next Summer but last year, due to various complications it just didn’t happen. The garlic  kept well in the basement and was just beginning to sprout when I planted it a couple of weeks ago. It is coming up just fine and it will be interesting to see if this late planted will affect the yield.

 

 

 

several large parsnips in a bowl

These parsnips made delicious curried soup

One happy result of planting garlic in the Spring was that I discovered a whole crop of parsnips that had been overlooked and forgotten. They were a really good size and not in the least bit woody, just totally delicious. I don’t think parsnips are taken seriously enough. They are one cool, versatile, very yummy root. Support your local parsnip grower, that’s what I say 🙂

 

 

 

I’ve been teaching myself how to build living willow fences, which I believe are called ‘fedges’. I’m sure in time I’ll cringe at the sight of these, my first attempts but for now, I’m pretty pleased with the results. I’m just hoping that I will be able to post an image of them all filled in with fresh green shoots later in the year.

Close up of willow branches loosely interwoven to form twelve inch diamond shapes

Close up of ‘fedge’ that surrounds one of the lower garden beds

willow fence

Willow fence or ‘fedge’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another project I’ve been working on is a hugel bête. This is a really neat way to create an insanely fertile raised bed using dead wood and detritus left by winter storms. To fully appreciate how this system works it helps to consider how any natural forest system, when left in its natural state regenerates and supports massive trees with no additional input. Logs, branches, twigs, leaves, straw and soil are densely packed in layers, graduating from largest to smallest. The accelerated microbial and fungal activity in the decomposing wood warms the soil and releases massive amounts of nutrients. We have created several hugel bêtes in previous years and they do really well. Back to the best practices versus life; yes, hugel bête construction is better done in the Fall, giving the ingredients some time to start ‘cooking’ but I expect to grow a passable crop of strawberries in this newly constructed bête. For no other reason than it just felt right, this particular huge is constructed in a heart shape. They are more usually circular , square or oblong.

rotten logs are arranged to form the base of the hugel

Rotten logs are placed at the base of the hugel, preferably slightly below ground level

 

branches an inch or two are layered close together on top of the rotten logs

Smaller branches are laid on top of the rotting logs as closely as possible

 

Twigs are layered on top of the branches

Twigs are layered on top of the smaller branches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

finer organics such as leaf mold and manure are layer on top of the twigs

Leaf mold, manure, compost and other suitable organic materials come next, all to be topped off with a layer of soil

 

As usual the goats are demanding to have the last word. They would like all their fans to know that they spent the winter spinning all that fresh straw bedding into super organic fertilizer.

 

a winter's worth of goat bedding gets piled up as the goats watch on

We spun all that straw into manure

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Modifications on a Perfect Morning

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cup of latte with biscotti on side

My perfect morning begins like this

After writing this post I realize it is primarily about appliances; the good, the bad and the simply amazing. Off topic for a blog focussing on  self-sufficient living and micro farming? I would agree but my inner barista, not so. She has always insisted that, to be perfect, every day should begin with at least one large latte, plus almond biscotti on the side; no matter what. She had a good point but  it was  purely hypothetical until now, seeing as how I’d balk at spending four dollars on a coffee, not to mention driving the requisite number of kilometers (still in my jammies) to locate such treats.

I’d considered acquiring my own espresso/cappuccino maker but they seemed like such complex, not to mention expensive, little beasts that I’d decided they were not for me. That was until I literally bumped into one. It had been reduced so many times I just couldn’t resist. And I’m so glad I didn’t. We have bonded and in contradiction to all the negative comments I’d read on-line about such appliances I find it relatively fail-safe; providing a perfect way to start any day. For me this emphasizes the fact that even the simplest of living does not have to be totally stripped of more worldly pleasures. I think it’s all about balance, about recognizing the difference between rustic and downright primitive. And it’s definitely about making simple moments special before the speed of life whisks them away.

Early mornings are indeed special here, and not just because of the lattes. The rising sun has a way of  illuminating whatever happens to be at the eastern end of the kitchen counter with a gentle, warm glow, but only for a few minutes before it moves on up. Recently my Valentine’s Day gift, a super little seed sprouter, has been soaking up all these early morning rays. I used to sprout seeds in mason jars but this unit is much more efficient, and so convenient. It consists of four circular trays that stack on top of each other. The top three trays have a single valve which drains rinse water into the tray below.

Seed sprouter opened

Yummy! Alfalfa, Spicy Salad Mix and Crunchy Bean Mix

The fourth and bottom tray is a reservoir the rinse water eventually flows into, prior to being discarded. Sprouts are ready for harvesting after five to seven days. This is a fab way to have crunchy greens all winter long and I would highly recommend these sprouters. They are amazing in their simple efficiency!

Back to perfect mornings. They can get off track with little to no warning. It doesn’t take much. A freezer malfunction, for instance, will do it every time. And it seems to me that freezers rarely malfunction when they’re empty, only when they’re full. In my recent Downhill Day the freezer was discovered to be full of partially thawed chicken. And not just any chicken. No, these were the Meat Kings we’d neglected to harvest at an appropriate time.

picture of large roasted bird

No, really. This is not a turkey.

For anyone not familiar with Meat Kings, they’re simply feathered eating machines. All the food they consume translates rapidly into heft and if they’re not harvested early in the growing cycle they become the Godzillas of the chicken world. We let ours go, or I should say grow, too long. It’s surprising how much a seventeen and a half pound chicken looks like a turkey!  However, it seemed to be pretty much unanimous among the various recipients that it was the best chicken they’d (ever) had. Certainly the two I roasted were  excellent, which is just as well as we’ll be eating chicken for quite a while to come.

chicken and sprout sandwich

Chicken sandwich a la chez nous

A simple  chicken sandwich can seem positively gourmet when everything is home grown/made and this makes them uber satisfying in more ways than one.

Earlier that morning I hadn’t anticipated I’d be driving around with a truck load of chicken to distribute, only an hour or so later. And returning home I didn’t expect to find a couple of goats hanging out on the back deck.

Seems like Sidney and Sabine decided they wanted to come on inside the house for a visit. They were determined. A hour or so after I’d coerced them back into their pen they were back on the deck, Sidney up on his hind legs peering quizzically through the kitchen window. Just another typical day on Quackadoodle Farm!

I’m seeing a pattern here; one appliance perfects my morning with a latte, but then another throws it into chaos with a truck load of partially thawed chickens to distribute, while the third simply, naturally keeps those seeds right on sprouting. Hmmm! I think there’s a message here. And the goats? Well, they just keep on being goats.

Goats looking through gate

Back behind bars again – but planning on the next escape

All Things Bright and Beautiful

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Living close to nature as we do it’s impossible not to see the hand of God in the perfection that surrounds us. I think Spring is perhaps the time when this amazing beauty is most apparent with renewed life cycles revving up all around.

As already mentioned, egg laying is at it’s frenzied peak around QuackaDoodle. A couple of ducks, obviously a tad smarter than the rest, soon noticed that their eggs were disappearing just about as fast as they were laying them. One hid her nest in a corner of the shed, while the other camped out in one of the raised beds under a berry bush. She camouflaged herself so well amid the mulch of old straw and leaves that it was several days before we noticed her sitting there.

Momma duck, just as she sat for five weeks, so well camouflaged she was barely visible with her head tucked under her wing

Momma duck, just as she sat for five weeks, so well camouflaged she was barely visible with her head tucked under her wing

Safe in the duck shed after their early morning trek from the 'secret' nest

Safe in the duck shed after their early morning trek from the ‘secret’ nest

Despite the weeks of cold rain and typical Spring storms she stayed on her nest for five weeks until she hatched out her clutch of nine. During their first day she formed ‘roofs’ with her wings to protect the babies from the torrential rain and when the next day dawned bright and sunny she began the trek back to the duck shed she had left five weeks earlier. She knew it would be much safer for them there. Wow! I was amazed at her dedication and her wisdom and also by the fact that all those little ones were nothing more than yolky blobs of bones and feathers scrunched inside a shell forty-eight hours earlier. Now they were twittering along in the morning sunlight obeying Momma’s commands to “Stay close!” and “Catch up!”. The best part was watching their very first tumble into Big Puddle and of course . . . Like ducks to water!

Yes, they were as delicious as they look, served in a cream sauce over fresh noodles and sauted vegetables

Yes, they were as delicious as they look, served in a cream sauce over fresh noodles and sauted vegetables

Yes, life is beautiful. And what could make it better than a really good feed of lobster? The season here is coming to an end and by all accounts it hasn’t been a particularly lucrative one for the fishermen. The price, set by the buyer keeps dropping but here’s the mystery: When the fishermen here were getting $4.50 a pound it was still selling for $14.95 in Ontario. Go figure! I’m not directly affected by the price of lobster and indeed I don’t agree with many of the things fishermen do (don’t get me started on roe harvesting) but in this case the fishermen are not being treated fairly. Everyone deserves fair pay for their work and as the price per pound at the wharf, as fixed by the industry buyer, keeps dropping, that’s just not happening. Lobstering is part of our heritage that we are likely to lose due to price manipulating and unbridled greed in places that have never felt the lash of an icy wind on a stormy sea. As usual it’s the little guy who suffers.

 

 

 

 

To close, a word (or two) of caprine wisdom:

Who needs lobster when one can be transported by the ear-raising ecstasy of alfalfa cubes.

Who needs lobster when one can be transported by the ear-raising ecstasy of alfalfa cubes.

Rainy Days/Happy places

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Drum roll . . . TaDah! Now presenting the new Quackadoodle logo.

Quackadoodle \logo

The QuackaDoodle Farm Logo ~ everyone wanted to get in on the act

Yes,  I know, it’s kinda’ hokey but at least it doesn’t give any false impressions. In truth I was purposely aiming for something with that inimitable ‘hand-drawn’ look because slick and perfect is so not us. We’re a farm, for heaven’s sake and  a very muddy one at that, after what seems like a month (although it’s actually more like week) of rain.

Le Roi insists the 'mural' doesn't do him justice
Le Roi insists the ‘mural’ doesn’t do him justice

We did have one sunny day, (can’t quite remember when) and I was able to take a picture of Le Roi, pronounced Lee Roy, strutting  his stuff in the chicken tractor he calls home. He’s a Leghorn and when the sun hits his feathers at just the right angle his colours truly are magnificent . . . and he knows it. What attitude!

TRUE OR FALSE ?

a.) A chicken tractor is a piece of farm equipment that is pulled by several chickens wearing specially designed harnesses.

b.) A chicken tractor is a moveable chicken coop, complete with its own fenced-in run.

If you picked b. you might agree that chicken tractors are great for housing a small flock and getting the garden beds fluffed up, de-bugged and fertilized by a crew of diligent ditch diggers who’ll work for chicken feed. And they’ll provide breakfast.

My Happy Place

 

I was sitting by the goat shed having my hair chewed on by now not-so-baby Stanley when I realized that I was in my perfectly, in fact supremely, happy place. This got me thinking about what it takes to be happy and if there is a correlation between simplicity and happiness. I really do believe there is and that as a society the further we removed ourselves from the natural world, the less contented we become. 

The garden centres around these parts (Nova Scotia) are warning their clients not to plant out any frost sensitive plants as it’s just too darn’ cold! Frost warnings in the middle of May, no less.My spinach, tatsoi and other hardy greens are peeking up out of the ground and we’re anticipated this year’s first feed of rhubarb any day soon but generally I believe most things in the garden are quite a ways behind the norm.

pickled eggs in jars

Pickled Eggs – ready for market

The eggs however just keep coming and coming. I have been pickling some for sale in our wonderful general store which sells just about everything from djembes to live bait, blown glass, cedar mulch, skeins of wool, silver jewelry and yes, pickled eggs. Theresa and Heather’s Country Store is the hub of our community, proof positive that it pays to shop local and well worth a visit, if only for an ice cream or a copy of my children’s book Gully Goes To Halifax.

SOME EGG TRIVIA

Who lays white eggs?

Chickens with white ears. Only chickens with red ears lay brown eggs.

(It took me a while to believe this was not a joke but is in fact true)

When hard boiling eggs, why do some peel so much easier and ‘cleaner’ than others?

 
The fresher the egg the more difficult it is to peel. Commercially produced eggs will usually peel more easily because they are older. The inside of an egg shrinks away from the shell as it ages and therefore the shell peels away cleanly. Dipping the egg in icy cold water while peeling also helps.

And who’s too cute not to have the last word?

baby goat running

Strange Surprizes

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This soil, untouched since it was tucked away under a blanket of straw is rich and friable; ready to plant

This soil, untouched since it was tucked away under a blanket of straw is rich and friable; ready to plant

It’s finally time to plant! Spring warmth has been slow coming to the Maritimes this year and because of the abnormally high temperatures last March and April the stubborn chill has been particularly noticable. The lack of warmth has not deterred the garlic, planted last Fall, which is poking up through the mulch with great enthusiasm. Daffodills are just flowering, which must seem like a bit of a joke to other parts of this great land where they’ve already bloomed and died off. Living here (east coast of Nova Scotia) simply requires a slight shift in perception, an understanding and acceptance that things, just about all things, come later. No need to get impatient . . . but of course I do. Who am I trying to fool!

Lobster season is well under way and the morning bird song is backed by the steady drone of Cape Islanders bringing home the day’s catch. A feed of lobster is a two minute walk away but in truth, being so close to the source has made us somewhat ambivalant about such treats. Actually, eggs in every conceivable form are presently topping the menu, given the mountain of eggs coming into the kitchen on a daily basis.

Jenni and The Giant Parsnip! This guy overwintered and was over sixteen inches long!

Jenni and The Giant Parsnip!
This guy overwintered and was over sixteen inches long!

And then, there’s The Giant Parsnip. I discovered this guy the other day while uncovered my raised beds for some early seeding. He was over sixteen inches long and surprisingly not at all ‘woody’. Here he is gently steamed, then breaded in Panko crumbs and served on a bed of arugula from the cold frame (sweated in a little balsamic vinegar and drizzled with maple syrup) along with some spicy pickled carrots and pickled beets from last season. And, of course, eggs. Pickled ones this time! Eating local can mean tasty, even at this time of year!

Parsnips aren’t a super popular vegetable for home gardens, perhaps because they are slow and erratic to germinate but they are prodigious seed producers, so there’s plenty of seed to save. They are biennials; they only produce seed in their second year and it’s important to note that the seed is only good for one year. I think these two reasons, slow germination and outdated seed, might have given parsnips a bad rap, but in fact they are easy enough to grow, are rugged and very tasty, especially when touched with frost . . . or over-wintered as I’ve just discovered. When saving seed it’s important to think ahead, to tag and leave a couple of roots in the ground when harvesting in the Fall. The seed heads are quite attractive, looking a lot like giant dill plants and easy to gather. But enough about parsnips….

This meal was all home-grown Tthe breaded parsnip and arugula were harvested in April. The Beets and carrots pickled llast Fall and the eggs pickled this Spring

This meal was all home-grown Tthe breaded parsnip and arugula were harvested in April. The Beets and carrots pickled llast Fall and the eggs pickled this Spring

I’ve been planting early greens such as spinach, tatsoi, chard and lettuce in the raised beds. Foolishly I had left one bed unmulched through the winter and it had already sprouted a substantial crop of deep rooted dandelions needing to be pulled. The other beds, that had been covered with straw through the winter, were so much easier to deal with. Just a matter of moving back the straw to find beautiful, friable soil all ready to plant. I also planted carrots, beets, parsnips and radishes. Perhaps a little early for carrots but I expect they’ll be okay. I have peas planted and I’m sure they’ll be fine as they like it cool but the ground is definitely too cold for beans yet. . . except for broad beans which don’t seem to mind the cold ground and definitely need the extra time to mature.

Broad beans are the most ungainly plants which need a solid frame to support them. I’ve learnt the hard way to have that frame in place before I plant the beans. If I don’t force myself to have the frames in place before I plant I know I’ll leave it too late and end up wrestling a matt of mammoth plants that have fallen on top of the rest of my crop. Peas aren’t as cumbersome or clumsy but they will tangle tightly around each other, making it hard to train them upwards on strings or trellis. I’ve done enough damage to the tender, quite brittle pea-vines to know that I must install the support, which in my garden is four by eight foot sheets of reinforcing mesh, before I plant the peas. I don’t allow myself to ‘do it soon but not now’ because I know that my sooner is always later . . . most often too late. Forcing myself to learn by my mistakes is hard; a lot like herding cats, I believe.

The Slug Patrol - hard at work. And thanks to them I haven't yet seen a trace of my erstwhile nemesis

The Slug Patrol – hard at work. And thanks to them I haven’t yet seen a trace of my erstwhile nemesis

The resident slug patrol, ducks who have not been segregated for breeding purposes, have been hard at work for several weeks now and although I hesitate to say it, I have not seen a single slug yet. Yeah! Slugs were my nemesis for many years and in fact got us wandering along the Permaculture Path to begin with. First step was the acquisition of some chickens, who despite what we had been told to the contrary, flatly refused to eat slugs. However, we were delighted to discover that slugs are to ducks as chocolate is to chocoholics. We have Khaki Cambell and Indian Runner ducks, both of which are excellent layers. Duck eggs contain more protein than chicken eggs and professional bakers prefer them for baking. I like them simply for their rich, buttery taste. Ducklings are also the cutest of all the hatchlings we incubate but the drakes are brutal lovers and by about the third week of mating season I’ve grown tired of running out with a broom to rescue some poor duck in distress. We usually have to load up on Polysporin eye drops because the drakes peck at the females around the eyes and force them down by pecking at their heads. Those ladies who attract the most ‘action’, (and although all ducks look a lot alike to us some are obviously considered to be ‘babes’ by the drakes) are practically bald around the head and neck by the end of mating season. They don’t seem to mind all the attention they get but I’m glad when it’s all over.

It's hard to image that these timid babies have become such brutal lovers

It’s hard to image that these timid babies have become such brutal lovers

Perhaps the corollary to the aphorism about needing to break eggs to make an omelette states that you can’t have eggs without losing a few feathers, spoken with a ducky dialect of course. Even though the constant influx of eggs can seem a little overwhelming at times, espescially as they greet me every morning by the basket full all needing to be scrubbed clean, I am quick to remind myself how thrilled we were with that very first egg, not so many years ago. Eggs are amazing; such a perfect food, so versatile, so cleverly packaged and so symbolic of the great promise this wonderful world has for those of us who care to put in the time to tend and nurture it.

Eggs, eggs and eggs to eggsess

Eggs, eggs and eggs to eggsess