Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Hunting Season

I walked to the barn the other day and saw a hawk flying away from where the chickens were out pecking and clucking. I looked around for carcasses and then tried to count, hoping I would get the 52 we started with. I got 51 on the first count and 53 on the second. As I walked back, I noticed a white spot on the neighbour's lawn...it's a bird...it's a....gigantic mushroom on closer inspection.

There is a lot of non-news to report each day, and there are many things that could happen: trees falling in the wrong places and on the wrong things, equipment like axes slipping out from hands and landing on limbs, hunting accidents...

It is duck hunting season and will soon be deer hunting season. The rule is, if a hunter wants to hunt on another person's property, he or she requires written consent. Of course, ricocheting bullets don't respect property lines. There are a lot of not-so distant bangs all around at dusk and I have been advised to wear bright orange if I'm in the woods at that time of day.

A friend told us a story of a woman who lived in our county, who was a bit surly and not the most gregarious neighbour. She was out gardening one evening when a neighbour came by to kindly encourage her to wear a vest. “Well, there is no hunting on this property” she responded with a huff. The neighbour responded, with the best intention, “You might want to be careful though...” because she had lovely white hair put up in a pony tail, and her head might be mistaken for a doe's behind.

We are in hunting country, where some families get their year's protein supply from the deer they shoot. Some of them prepare the deer themselves, which involves real skill. The whole meat-eating population relies on there being people out there who can properly carve up and portion out an animal, yet there aren't many people around who can still butcher a cow down to steaks: abattoirs are few and far between and for farmers at least, the danger with many is that you don't know that you will get back what you brought in.

Apart from butchery, there are other skills that are slowly being lost or degraded. I tried to find a mycological society in this region, but it looks like there are not a lot of avid mushroom hunters. It used to be (at least in Europe, so I've heard) that you could bring a mushroom to a pharmacist and they could identify it. But in North America, mushrooms have always been fringy.

Today, as I searched the fields and woods for one of the layer hens, after seeing the dog terrorizing them and scattering them about, I looked closely through each bit of grass, expecting that I would find a carcass. In my focus, I came upon a big, fresh, gilled white mushroom, alone and surrounded by tall grasses (the chicken, by the way, eventually came back out of the woods and all are still alive). The mushroom smells edible, it looks edible, and I have to keep talking my way out of frying it up, the same way my dog has to talk herself out of killing the chickens. I am working on identifying the type and if I can find solid backing in the description and spore print that it is a safe one, I will be pleased.  This is the kind of hunting I would prefer to pursue.  

Monday, 14 October 2013


Apple tree in fog
"Trees, trees, stern majesties, I rely upon you, place my reliance on you," sings Veda Hille on her album This Riot Life.  She hails from Vancouver and the trees I imagine she is referring to are massive mountain pines and firs.  The trees of eastern Ontario are different but equally impressive for their colour.  I am from Alberta where the trees are fewer and further between.  Maples still remind me that I am not from here; I didn't grow up with them and they still feel foreign.

The central fixture of our treeline is the apple tree that is set apart from the others, beside the road midway between the highway and the house.   It is healthy and full-figured.  The apples on this tree are good - they are sweet and abundant.  Thus far we have managed a good batch of hard cider, a few yogurt tubs worth of apple chips and a few jars of sauce.  We have saved about a bushel of fresh apples that will relieve our fruit budget for a while.  

XB picking apples, climbing the apple tree with cat-like agility
Frontenac is promoting its eco-tourism appeal:  fishing, hiking, ornithology, tree-gazing in fall...and most Frontenacians are pleased with the fact that this has not brought hordes of tourist buses.  There are few resorts, though there is a handful of bed and breakfasts.  North Frontenac is designated a Dark Sky Preserve.  It has a low population and is far enough away from any urban area that its skies keep pretty much unblemished.  South Fontenac is close to Kingston and the southern edge of the sky is generally glowing slightly, but the stars are still quite spectacular here.

Back to trees.  They are valuable in many ways:  they retain moisture, produce oxygen...okay, I am not revealing anything groundbreaking.  They are a good way to produce mushrooms and we will be growing some Shiitake and Oyster next season.  This invloves drilling holes in the logs, filling with spores, and then waiting and watching, ensuring certain moisture and shade conditions remain stable.  There aren't a lot of farms around that are devoting their energies to this, but mushrooms, while not as beloved in Canada as they might be in parts of Europe and Asia, are loved greatly by those who do love them.  I would recommend "Know your Mushrooms" to get a taste of what true enthusiasts look and sound like (they are interesting) and what mushrooms are really like, beneath the superficial experience most of us have with them (they are interesting).  I learned that they are the oldest living organisms recorded in the history of the earth, and they are cleansing:  it is said that oyster mushrooms can clean oil spills, and make all the toxic waste disappear without a trace.  And they are nutritious too.  And, they are delectable.  And underneath the ground, they are everywhere.

A section of the woodlot

Friday, 4 October 2013

Chickens II

The chickens we have are a variety called White Rock, which are probably the type most commonly raised and sold for meat.  They are designed to mature in 10 weeks.  Ours quickly outgrew their cardboard box and are now in a plywood contraption in our garage, with high ceilings and a pine-shaving strewn floor.  They have a branch in the middle on which to perch and are brought outdoors on these Indian summer afternoons to learn how to peck the earth for supplementary food and to learn to be real, old-fashioned chickens.

As a child, I was a renovation assistant to my dad.  I witnessed framing, flooring, drywalling, the installation of exterior siding and I held one end of the tape measure a fair bit.  It made for long and cumbersome Saturday afternoons and until last week, the thought of taking on a home renovation project of my own would have made me sick to my stomach.  I don't like hardware stores and I don't enjoy handy work.  However, a mixture of the urgency of getting the chickens into a bigger space that could still be temperature controlled (they are not ready for the barn), along with the sense that maybe I could actually pull something like this off (given that we'd managed to spruce up the barn quite nicely with some scrap wood) made for a sort of exciting challenge.

We rented a U-Haul, since, unlike proper farmers, we don't have a commercial grade vehicle of our own, and went to Home Depot.  We piled two-by-fours onto a trolley until it was full and then got another for a door and some plywood.  I brought the truck over to the loading dock, we loaded it up, went back in for a circular saw and a ladder, brought it out, went back in for some insulation and gyprock for the cold storage room in the basement, which will be the next project.  We ended up at the same cashier on each trip through and she gave us a bemused smile the third time.  We don't look like construction contractors (let alone farmers); most often people assume we are students at Queens.

A day's hard work paid off and while the doorway isn't exactly straight and some of the framing is a touch off, the coop looks decent and was satisfying to build.

Because farm supplies can be costly (I had a vertiginous feeling going through the checkout again and again, the tab soaring) we have been experimenting with rural farm auctions and garage sales. The people who operate and attend most of these are rural to the bone (lots of camouflage clothing) and are likely a bit surprised to see two young Queens students stopping in.  One has to sift through piles upon piles of junk to find anything worth buying (or at actions, one has to sit through hours of bidding on thing like old dolls and candy dishes) but there are good finds if one looks long enough.  XB managed to find a chainsaw in good working order at a country yard sale for $10.  A good new chainsaw starts at around $200 so I was pleased with the find.  Meanwhile, at the auction I attended that same morning, a lightly used Stihl chainsaw sold for well above its retail value.  When people get into a bidding war, the adrenaline starts surging and reason slips.  Beware.

I am not comfortable with sharp power tools, but after using the circular saw for the chicken coop project and coming out of it uninjured, I will give the chainsaw a try.  Winter is coming.