Friday, September 26, 2008

The Culvert

The Culvert - it sounds somewhat like the title to a horror movie, however, it was just another chapter in our life at Muddy Acres. The old culvert over which we need to drive to gain entrance to our property was a bit under-sized, considering the farm equipment that needs to gain access to our fields. We had been meaning to up-grade this detail for quite some time, and this September we had our opportunity.

First we needed to remove the old drain pipe. This task proved quite easy, given Eric's ability with the back-hoe. I was the unlucky soul who got to stand knee-deep in the mud. We were left with an open ditch, not quite a comforting thought, since we had no access to our driveway and needed to park our cars at our neighbour's place.

This is what things looked like at the end of the first day:

Thankfully, the sun was shining just like the forecast said it would, and we were able to place in the new, larger drain pipe. At some point, Eric was digging, asking me, "How much deeper do I have to go?", at which point I got very worried, mainly because I had no clue! I thought he had this figured out! Our measuring method wasn't very sophisticated, but it worked. We just took a long piece of wood and marked it with our desired depth, and yours truly, donning her best pair of rubber boots (a country girl can't own too many pairs of rubber boots!) waded into the muck and gauged the depth. ("Yes, dear, the mud is wallowing in over the top of my boots. I think you can stop digging now!")

We were precise, too, because when the new pipe was lowered in, we had a good fit with nice drainage.

We lined the base with some geo-textile membrane, probably over-kill, but we had some left over from our patio-building exploits, and lowered the pipe into the ground using chains and the back-hoe. We had 2 sections of pipe, since we couldn't get one the full length, so we had to make a join using a huge gasket specially made for the pipe. The gasket is made of hard plastic and joins at the top with 2 huge ties. It is ridged and lines up with 2 sections of ridges on either side of each piece, and it was a bit of a challenge to line everything up properly, but we managed without too many obsceneties. I had my doubts about the solidity of the gasket, but it was a seamless join and everything fitted together perfectly. Once the join was made, Eric was able to back-fill with the earth he excavated, and the ending of yet another project was celebrated. (And once again, when people asked how we spent the weekend, we just look at each other and grin: you had to be there to understand).

Granola People

I whole-heartedly accept the title of Granola Person. Along with the distinction comes an obligation to offer up a great bowl of granola, homemade, of course. My mother's been making granola since the dawn of time, so the concept is not new to me. However, when people come into the house and comment on the smell of freshly baked granola with the remark, "I didn't know you could make your own granola", this is the recipe I send them home with.

Naturally, feel free to experiment, it's only granola, after all. The ingredients are inexpensive, the end result totally satisfying, so you really have no good reason not to try this versatile breakfast staple.

In fact I dare you to leave it alone while it cools. I can always be found with a spoon in my hand, hoovering it up right from the cookie sheet while it cools, it's that good.


8 cups regular rolled oats (not quick or instant oats, but the real kind)
1½ cups firmly packed brown sugar
1½ cups wheat germ
½ cup sesame, sunflower or other seeds
½ cup coconut, or nuts, or both
½ cup wheat bran
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla

Raisins and other chopped or dried fruits such as cranberries and apricots

Preheat oven to 325° F.

In a large bowl add all dry ingredients except raisins and dried fruits. Stir to blend.

In a saucepan, heat oil, honey and vanilla until bubbling. Pour over dry ingredients in bowl, and mix thoroughly.

Divide this mixture evenly between two lightly greased 10" x 15" rimmed baking sheets.

Bake about 20 minutes or until coconut is lightly browned.

Remove from oven and stir several times during cooling to prevent sticking.

When cool, add raisins or other dried fruits.

Store in an airtight container.

Yield: about 16 cups

Friday, September 5, 2008

Where did the summer go?

Here we are in early September. The sun is setting at 7:30 and by 8:00, it's dark. What's more, it finally became warm about mid-August, with a run of nice, sunny days that lasted about 3 weeks. The good news is our corn is growing at a record pace, and providing we don't have any frost, the harvest should be a good one. I'd say the corn is well over 8 feet tall, and should be cut the first week of October, so we still have a ways to go. (And the bad news is we had the rainiest summer on record.) We took lots of pictures of clouds and storms rolling in...

Our swallows had a second litter, for lack of a better ornithological term. I don't know where I was last time (here but not watching?), but this was the first time I really observed them, and it was a riot. Mom and Dad trying to egg on (pardon the pun) the little swallows in their flying manoeuvers, gliding from beam to beam in the barn, and landing with the most ungraceful crashes imaginable. An absolute scream to watch. Within 4 days, the little ones with their stubby tails were out and flying around, virtually indistinguishable from their parents in the air, save for their shorter tails. They would sit on the power lines and chirp away at one another, and then suddenly, they were gone for the season. I hope they make it south to their winter migration grounds, and next year we'll leave the barn doors wide open for their return.

Our summer beautification project entailed pulling up our patio tiles, excavating 12 inches of pure clay to build a 13' by 15' slate patio and 40' long walk-way to the front door. The slate market in Quebec has taken a bit of a turn in the past few months, and prices have nearly tripled, ergo the project is not completed yet, since we're now sourcing Vermont slate and trying to find a supplier who can supply us with everything we need: indoor 12" x 12" tiles, outdoor slabs, 1" thick and 12" x 24" long, as well as 3 front steps and roofing tiles for the new entrance. We'd rather not pay 4 different suppliers 4 exorbitant transportation charges if we only need to pay it once. Hence we're in a holding pattern with yet another incomplete project on our hands, but it makes life interesting, and keeps the passers-by wondering...

We made a 12" base of 3/4" gravel, and lined our excavated base with a geo-textile membrane to prevent the gravel from disappearing into the clay through repeated thaw and freezing cycles. We also put in a french drain that is about 50 feet long and drains to our ditch. Again, excavating about 16" deep and using a 1% grade for optimal drainage, a job like this cannot be done without the help of a backhoe. Thankfully, our John Deere TLB (Tractor, Loader, Backhoe) 110 makes life much easier. We started with a model 4310, however, it was traded in for the bigger model 2 years ago, no regrets there. Who doesn't need more power? The model 4310 would have been perfect if not for all of our digging projects, and by the time our drainage projects are completed, we could probably be consultants.

We had the rainiest summer, there were literally weeks on end where weeding the garden proved prohibitive (read: I hate getting wet), so things got a bit over grown. Note to self: Turban squash are not worth it, Atlantic Giant Pumpkins are named Giant for a reason, and really, one zucchini plant is enough. Remember to stake the peppers (wow, what a summer for them...) and keep things in check by weeding weeding and weeding some more. Right now I am letting the Atlantic Giant Pumpkins take over and won't make the same mistake again next year. I planted 25 mature strawberry plants I received from a farmer who wanted to till them under, and they are growing strong and healthy, already making runners that I can plant next spring. I planted them in a weed-barrier, so here's to hoping my weeding chores will be limited next year. Maybe I should plant EVERYTHING in a weed barrier and save myself some time...I'll weigh the options and let you know next summer. In a perfect world, I'd have some kind of edging around the beds to prevent the weeds from encroaching, because the plantain and dandelions, thistles and what-not are literally taking over unless I beat them into submission with my spade. For now, I've decided to recycle the patio tiles we pulled up, and use them as a path between the beds. This will keep things tidier and easier to maintain.

Our old hag cat Schatzie is pushing 21 or 22, maybe even more, and is starting to wind down a bit. Her kidneys are tiny, and she's on antibiotics for a suspected bladder infection (ever tried to get a cat to pee into a cup?), and although she's doing better now, I have her under a close watch and on lots of petting-therapy. Every time I walk by her and don't stop to pet her, I hear about it with a croaky, demanding meow. Pet me, pet me, pet me is this cat's mission statement. We're not sure about her age because we only inherited her 3-and-a-half years ago when our neighbour died, but for sure she's been around in the seven years we've been here, and the previous house-owners can vouch for the 14 years before that. Our new neighbour wanted to take her and her son, Baby Grey, to the SPCA, but let's face it, people don't adopt 20 year old cats, so we took both cats in as a way to honour our late neighbour's memory. They were both so shy, like little grey shadows, and although Baby Grey still lives outside in the barn, Schatzie showed interested in becoming a pampered indoor cat, and inside is where she now dwells. Only on the sunniest of days does she venture to the front door and outside for a walk in the lawn, always under our watchful eye, a far cry from her life as a shop cat who spent only the coldest nights indoors in her previous incarnation. She's a bony bag of fur, and we love her.

This sunflower was self-seeded from the bird seed I put out last winter. I have collection of sunflower seed packets that I keep meaning to plant, but next year I will make a point to plant them in a good location. We had a huge field of sunflowers near our house, and I always meant to take a picture, however when the thought occurred to me, it was either raining, or Eric had the camera with him. There's always next year for that, too.

On our fall agenda is to finish the slate patio and path, (pleasepleaseplease, let this project be complete before winter), and install a new drain pipe where our driveway meets the road, as well as plant our 120 little pine trees before the deep freeze starts. I also want to get some garlic into the ground for next year. There's never a shortage of things to do. Part of me loves the winter, because our world revolves around the inside of the house (read: within a 10 foot radius of the wood stove, in my case), and things seem much more controlled and confined, but summer's really where it's at, even if the days of toiling outside are long. I don't think we'd have it any other way.
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