My bacon has nipples, how about yours?

Wait – whuut??

Ok, let’s back this up a bit…

Two weekends ago we slaughtered our first pig, complete with traditional dip-scalding and scraping to remove hair and pigmented skin. We had lots of help, which is good because it is a lot of work!

The belly slabs and the jowels were liberally rubbed with a cure of 50/50 salt and sugar and stored in a cold animal-proof place. As the week progressed, the moisture drawn out would get discarded and more cure applied as needed. At the end of the week, the cure is rinsed off and the slabs are dried and wired-up for hanging.

Meanwhile, two hams, some hocks, and trotters were all immersed in a brine of again, about 50/50 salt and sugar and left for the week. As this was a bit long for brining the small pieces (too salty!), after the brine was poured off, we soaked them in fresh water for an hour or so to draw some of the salt back out. Then all pieces were dried and tied for hanging.

Hanging where, you ask? In our smoker! Our goal was to cold-smoke these pieces to get the flavour and to be able to freeze them and then thaw and cook at a later time.

We dug a bit into a hillock and built up three sides of firebrick reclaimed from an old chimney. There is a monstrous 20″ x 20″ paver as the base, the firebrick is dry-stacked (as this is a “temporary” setup), and a matching 20″ x 20″ paver on top. We shaped a few bricks for the terracotta pipe vent to direct the smoke out the back.

smoker firebox
smoker firebox
smoker firebox built into hill
smoker firebox built into hill

We filled in around the bricks and overtop the terracotta pipe with a clay-heavy soil. The front of the firebox was closed up with an old electrical panel cover – door opens to add more damp shavings; whole panel comes off when we need to dig out ashes! A bit of scavenged flashing helped to keep smoke from seeping out where the panel meets with the top paver.

The smoker box is several frames of wood stacked on each other. In the top frame we drilled some holes to slide electrical conduit through, from which we hung the meats! The lid is a full plywood pallet upsidown. Hard to see, but we inserted a long-probe brewing thermometer in the side to keep an eye on temperatures inside the box.

hillside smoker
hillside smoker

We initially made a hot fire of dry wood to have a good bed of coals and to ensure the pipe was warmed up so we would get an adequate draw – four feet of flame says our draw was too good and the temperature in the box was over 300 degrees F! We cooled the fire down by adding damp alder shavings and restricting the air intake. We cooled the smoke box down by wedging one of the frames up a bit to let some cool air mix in and by rotating the lid to let more smoke and heat out. There was plenty of smoke passing through so we weren’t missing out on the whole reason for this setup.

Those tweaks did the trick and we landed right on target of 75 deg F. About 5 or 6 hours of smoking has left a very nice smokey flavour in the bacon – not subtle and not overpowering, I don’t think it get’s much better than this!

Bacon slab, skin on, with nipples!
Bacon slab, skin on, with nipples!
Bacon slices, nipple skin removed.
Bacon slices, nipple skin removed.

Best. Bacon. Ever. xD

What have we been up to?

… or what have we NOT?  (That might be a shorter list)

Here’s a short photo-tour of the happenings this spring:

First bunny harvest.
We lay in the foundation for a workshop and covered meeting space.
EPIC work party installs vast amounts of fencing.
We get a transformer box to go with our power, with our very own Lightning Guy.
Our new building takes shape.
A cow-watering solution that works for longer than three days without rain! There was great rejoicing.
Bacon seeds arrive. So cute!
Fencing runs to the greenhouse, preventing the goats from eating all the rhubarb leaves (argh!), and allowing us to put in a garden. And have a place to eat lunch without being mugged by chickens or goats. Again, Much Rejoicing!
A duck, with Too Many Legs. (ok, so they’re baby ducks. SO CUTE.)
Baby ducks got older.
WE FIXED THE POND!!! I hope to write in depth about this later.  It was pretty simple to do, and involved cow poop.
Canela had a baby! This is Zeus, born over Easter. He’s a couple of months old in this picture.


That’s it, pretty much.  We’re growing bunnies, ducklings, piglets, and a calf, besides our regular posse of children.  Babies all over!

Rabbit experiment

We are experimenting with rabbits.  We bought two lovely does from a friend near Nanaimo last spring, and have been alternatively smothering them with fresh grass and attention, and ignoring them completely.

They survived, thankfully.
They survived, thankfully.

At last, in November, they were old enough to breed, and we acquired a lovely enormous meaty white buck to introduce them to.

A month later, BUNNIES!!


We keep them at the farm, but a storm soaked our bunny cage, so we had to bring them home to dry out.

The kids had a great time decorating them.
The kids had a great time decorating them.
The eventual fate of the babies was a hot topic of discussion.
The eventual fate of the babies was a hot topic of discussion.

We currently keep the rabbits in hanging cages, which is a standard way of doing it, but not our ultimate goal.  We hope to form a rabbit colony, in a large enclosed space, that will allow happy cage-free (or cage-limited) foraging for 5-6 adult rabbits and their not-yet-weaned offspring.  Once the babies are weaned, we’ll have another space where they can get fat on grass, garden goodies, and a few pellets if they feel the need.

To that end, we took a 40’x40′ space, and laid galvanized stucco mesh on the ground.

So much poky wire!
So much poky wire!

And then, we covered it in soil.

Hurrah, Jasmine's Big Truck!
Hurrah, Jasmine’s Big Truck!

We’re going to fence it into 6 or 7 small pastures, with a home space on one edge that the rabbits will always have access to.  Each pasture will be available for 4-6 days, and then the next pasture will open.  We hope that we can make the plantings lush and abundant, and the rabbits won’t eat everything down to nubbins immediately.  The plantings are mostly planned – next, we move the rabbits’ hanging cage contraption out, run the internal fencing, plant, make some little shelters and nesting areas, and wait for it to grow in.

Rabbit paradise, or a predator gorefest.. we’ll see!

Windrow Composting

When we take nourishment from the consumption of animals, we like to get the most out of each creature that we possibly can; this is done both out of thrift and out of respect for the life taken to sustain our own.

What this often means in practice is that we will roast a whole chicken and eat the meat and skin, then boil the carcass for broth and pick the last scraps of meat from the bones for soup. From a fatty animal (like a side of pig) we will render the fat and use the lard for cooking. Or from a hairy animal we will enjoy the meat and bones and try our hand at tanning!

But we still end up with parts that we are not prepared to make use of directly: boiled bones and scraps of cartilage, entrails and defatted skin. What to do with these?

There are several options! Many municipalities in the Vancouver area now accept these sorts  of scraps in their green waste collection programs. Not so in lovely rural Sooke. A typical in-the-kitchen vermicomposting setup can only accommodate a very small amount of meat scraps, and certainly not the entire collection of one deer’s viscera. A digester composter is a great solution, except for areas with hungry bears wandering through – your digester bin may not survive the pillaging and this sets up a bad situation for the bears.

So what to do? Compost like the pros!

A windrow is a row of organic matter deposited by machine harvest, raked by hand, or… blown together by the wind! Windrow composting makes use of the piling up of organic materials to harbour an inner core that is safe and stable for the necessary micro-organisms to thrive and do their work.

Windrow compost piles can be intensively managed to produce top-quality soil, with constant temperature and humidity monitoring, regular turning, active aeration, and measured carbon:nitrogen ratios. Or you can opt for decent results and lot less effort by setting up a passively aerated static windrow pile.

To allow aeration into the windrow (to promote the aerobic bacteria, not the stinky anaerobic ones) we started by laying down a bed of branches.


On the bed of branches we spread out two hay bales that had gotten wet and were starting to moulder.


The branches will allow air to be drawn into the windrow as it releases CO2. The layer of hay will keep warmth in the core and not have the composting material simply fall down and plug up the airways the branches provide.

A few more branches and then we add our treasure of deer guts and the meat scraps we had been collecting in the freezer (not wanting to send them to landfill).


And then we pile on the hay – another 6 bales! It is important to make the mass large enough that the inner core can be quite warm and the outer lay will insulate. There also needs to be a lot of carbon material (brown organic matter like hay/straw/leaves/wood chips) in comparison to the nitrogen material. A low C:N ratio would be 50:1, I’ve seen much higher ratios recommended on the ‘net depending on materials used. At 50:1, even the 8 bales used here might not be enough for the amount of meat scraps we put in. We’re going to see how the pile settles after a week or two, then likely add on some more straw. And some lumber tarps will be added to keep the rain off (too much moisture reduces core temperature and leads to anaerobic conditions).

Here’s how it looked when we called it “done for now”. It is about 4 feet tall at the peak.


The neat thing that makes this ‘pile’ a ‘row’ is that as we generate more scraps we add them to one side of the pile and cover with more branches and straw. We keep building this sideways into a row and the composting core that we’ve established here will grow sideways too as more material is provided. Eventually we will be able to dig in to our starting point of the windrow and pull out excellent fertile soil!




A Gift

We were gifted with a deer on Friday, whole and complete, and of course we accepted.

Oh deer!

We were pretty sure that it would be a lot of work, and a lot of learning.  It was a little easier than we thought, figuring out what to do – the internet helps, of course, but we found that by paying attention to what we were doing we could tell more or less what had to happen next.  Everything took longer than we thought it would, but that’s pretty normal for us.


The guts were surprisingly colourful.  We saved them, so the kids could see them (and then wished we hadn’t.  Stinky!)

Beautiful stinky guts
Beautiful stinky guts

We hung her overnight in a cold, safe place, then skinned her over the course of the afternoon.

deer04   deer06


From early evening until early into the morning, Jeremy butchered.

The next day, we scraped the skin, and salted it.  We plan to tan it when we have skins in sufficient quantity, and until then, the freezer.

It was beautiful, and yucky, and amazing.  We ate venison for dinner, and breakfast, and again for dinner.  Curried venison is delicious, and we may eat ribs this week.
What a gift.

Chickens are Delightful

When we embarked on this adventure, I knew that we were going to have animals, but I had no idea which ones I would like.  Ducks?  Goats?  Cows?  Chickens?  I had no idea.  And I do like them all, but nothing beats chickens for bringing a space to life with efficient, effective work.  Really.  If anyone wants anything scratched around, just throw a handful of chicken scratch on it, and it’s done.  Poop on the floor of the chicken house?  Scratch it into the deep litter.  Barn litter needs fluffing?  Chicken scratch.  Cows pooping on the field?  Chickens will peck out the yummy larva, and scratch the bejeezus out of it (ALL the bejeezus.  There is NONE LEFT.)

Chickens, on their first day here.

Initially, we planned to make a temporary chicken coop and then over the course of a week or so, butcher all the chickens.  As soon as they arrived, however, they started laying a BAJILLION eggs, and very quickly paid for their feed and the meagre price of acquisition ($2/ea).  With eggs like that, chicken soup started to look less appealing.

Sometimes it amuses me to picture the chickens as tiny velociraptors.  Especially as they steal bits of my lunch, or swarm towards me when I call them in for food.  If they knew that it was what I wanted, they’d probably do headstands for cheese.  They adore leftover scrambled egg, and I imagine their chickeny brains saying, “WOW!  This is exactly what I need to make eggs!!”.  The chickens are only slightly skittish, and are very food-motivated, and it’s lovely watching them out muttering to each other, singing their morning egg song, and doing their busy chickeny stuff.

Our chickens come from a more production-oriented organic farm to the west of us, which fed chickens well but for management reasons kept them inside.  Initially, fearing the twofold doom of all-chickens-eaten-by-predators and chicken-poop-everywhere, I started building them an outside run.  I thought it would take a day to get it put together, but stopping every thirty seconds to help kids do things really makes one’s work take longer.  On the morning of the second day, hearing the chickens muttering about their inadequate inside space and looking at the beautiful green stuff outside in need of scratching, I shrugged my shoulders and let them out.  It’s been at least two months, and we have lost one chicken to ?exposure?, but otherwise have our full compliment.  And though we do have a  fair amount of chicken poop, it mostly goes on places that could use a bit of chicken fertility.

Happy outside chickens, scratching in the broom
Happy outside chickens, scratching under the broom

The problems with free-ranging chickens do not end with the aforementioned twofold doom, however.  If we want our chickens to earn their keep in non-scratching ways, we have to be able to find their eggs.  Despite their ample compliment of nesting spots in the coop, our chickens find creative spots to keep their eggs.  For a little while, their preferred spot was inside a tent filled with hay.

Giant Nest!
Giant Nest!

This made finding eggs relatively easy.  Once the tent was emptied, the chickens found a lovely spot in the straw inside our hay shelter.  We assumed that the expected winter laying slowdown was upon us, and resigned ourselves to fewer delicious chicken-presents, until someone noticed that there were eggs on the floor of the shelter, and that there were so many eggs in a little cubby in the hay that the chickens could no longer fit inside.  Now, laying has slowed again, and we’re wondering where the eggs will pile up next.

Our rooster, named Cocktail by one of the kids, is a bit of a sorry beast.  He roosters most diligently:  he watches for predators, takes care of the hens, and makes sure that there’s some fertilized eggs in the mix.  His tailfeathers were all pecked out by the hens at his previous home, though, and have not grown back despite a serious reduction in pecking.  About a week ago, I crept with a flashlight into the coop and slathered his poor red bottom in Bag Balm (recommended by our Cow Mentor), and today I saw little poky pinfeathers coming out.  Perhaps in a month or so he’ll have a glorious tail, but here’s what he looks like now:

Perhaps in a month or so, he'll have a glorious tail again, but here's what he looks like now.

The kids have been naming the chickens, and I have no clue who “Blueberry” or “Glorious” are, or any of a number of other names that have been given.  ‘Cocktail’ and ‘Featherless’ I remember, due to roosterness or descriptiveness, but the others are all Little Brown Hens.  The kids have asked that, if we end up eating any chickens, we eat Glorious first because she pecks people and steals lunches, so we’ll see how that turns out.

So far, despite our plans, we have yet to eat a single one.

Summer in pictures.

Summer has been very, very busy.  I write something in my head, and before I have a chance to sit and write it out, something else happens that is Even Better, and causes the previous thing to be uninteresting.  Right now, chickens are The Thing, but we’re hoping to get the cows moved in before the end of the month, and maybe ducks next week.  Goats need to be here before the end of the month.  And everything takes longer than we expect, and requires at least twice as much talking as we anticipate, but the things we do are so much better together than they would be if we were making decisions individually.  Here’s a few pictures of what’s happened over the summer:

Roger Hodgkins cutting the hay
Roger Hodgkins cutting the hay – our first crop!
D.A. Smithson and Sons Well Drilling
D.A. Smithson and Sons Well Drilling
Jasmine creates beauty  (and dust) using heavy machinery
Jasmine creates beauty (and dust) using heavy machinery
Outhouse, half done, and plants (thanks, Nanette!)
Outhouse, half done, and shade plants (thanks, Nanette!)
Handwashing station that will wash your feet if you're not careful.
Handwashing station that will wash your feet if you’re not careful.
Jasmine makes amazing roads
Jasmine makes amazing roads
Kids have a play area
Kids have a play area.  Thanks for equipment, Grandma Gail!
Food Digester, before we had CHICKENS.
Food Digester, used a great deal before we had CHICKENS (and before the bear knocked it over).
Our first livestock!
Our first livestock!  Thanks, Ellen and Adrian.  They got out three times, one overnighter, but we’ve still got both.
Cistern.  Now if we could get electricity, we'd have water!
Cistern. Now if we could get electricity, we’d have water!
The Transition House, knocked together to house chickens until we have something better.
The Transition House, knocked together inside the ‘barn’ to house chickens until we have something better.  I used your fancy tool belt, Uncle Rod, but still managed to drop a hammer on Tony’s head.
CHICKENS!!!  They have already earned their purchase/feeding in eggs, took less than a week.
An Actual Haystack, hay scythed by Sweaty People because it was faster than weedwacking.
An Actual Haystack, hay scythed by Sweaty People because it ended up being faster/quieter/more-fun than weedwacking.


And now, I think you’re mostly caught up.  We are having Such A Good Time.

On Bikes…

I know. What does farming have to do with bikes?

The real question is, how many bikes do ten people have, and where do we put them all? Usually they go in a garage. And we have a garage. It’s just not that big, even with some of the bikes being for the kids…

I’ve done a lot of biking over the past few years as a volunteer for Port Coquitlam and they store their bikes by hanging them up.  I wanted something similar, but set up so the handlebars don’t collide quite so much.

With a piece of 2×10 on each wall of the garage to anchor to, and two more to make the rack, one vertical and the other horizontal, it looks like this:

2x10s to frame the bike rack
2x10s to frame the bike rack

The hooks to hang the bikes alternate on the bottom edge of the vertical board, and on the forward edge of the horizontal board. Hanging straight down, they don’t have any stress that would cause the hook to wear away at the board.


The bikes now hang, one up and forward, and the next down and back.


The kids bikes fit on the floor between the hanging bikes, which is not as ideal as I would like, but it does work just fine.

Some of you might wonder how to get the bikes up so high. Don’t lift with your arms! Start by locking the brake on the back wheel, and pull the bike back so it balances on the rear wheel,  just like it is going to hang. wheel it under the hook you want, still on that back tire. Then put your knee under the bike seat and lift your knee, using your arms only to keep it balanced, and to aim for the hook. Once the front tire on on the hook, lower it till it is resting. Reverse the process to get the bike down. That will save a lot of stress on the back from a fair weight at the end of your arms as you twist to maneuver it into place.

The back of the rack is a good place to store your bike helmets. You  can also use a straight coat rack instead of more hooks.


Normally we might have put this at the back of the garage, but that wasn’t an option, so it went toward the front. It had to be low enough that it would not catch the garage door, or it’s hardware as the door moved up or down. And also back enough that the door wouldn’t (quite) come down on the hanging bikes.

So, that’s just one more thing we did to fit 10 people into a small space!



On making the property ours…

I was going to call this “On Construction” but we haven’t really constructed any buildings yet.

But we are getting things done! Really!

With Jasmine’s help we have moved our Big Steel Boxes that I mentioned here back in May when we got the property (Wow! Only 2 months!) onto our boneyard. (Erin already covered this, but still! Berm, yard, gravel pad for the boxes. Plus, our stuff!)

Containers, snuggled into gravel behind the berm.
Containers, snuggled into gravel behind the berm.


Now, the first pic in that post was the Sunriver sign at the gate. Well, we couldn’t leave it like that, so with some chalkboard paint and chalk, and a ladder, and Christiana’s artistic flair, now that sign looks like this:

20140704_125131 (960x1280)

But wait, that’s not all! We need roads to get places, and we have a creek( really just runoff flowing down a trench) which means we will need a bridge. So, prep for a road and bridge:

Road area cleared down to hardpan for the road base.
Road area cleared down to hardpan for the road base.
Road leading to the creek, down to clay. Room for Roadbase plus room for the bridge!
Road leading to the creek, down to clay. Room for Roadbase plus room for the bridge!

Sounds like lots, and it is, but there is more! Those darn pesky fields keep growing grass! Oh wait, it’s a farm, that’s a good thing. If you can get it into bales. So, a quick call from Tony to Roger Hodgkins, who has been haying these fields for years, and the hay has been cut, dried, turned over and dried some more. Now it is in rows waiting to be baled. Which I hope happens today! To be followed by moving the bales (let’s see if I survive that!).

20140708_124800 (1280x960)

Of course, we still have a farm with no hookups to power, gas, water or any of those things. But we do have the ball rolling on that. In fact, We have a well in the process of being drilled right now. The steel casing through the sand and gravel and clay is actually more expensive than drilling through bedrock!

D.A. Smithson and Sons Well Drilling
D.A. Smithson and Sons Well Drilling
20 foot drill extenders on the right, drill extenders inside the steel casing on the left
20 foot drill extenders on the right, drill extenders inside the steel casing on the left
The first steel casing, with a drive shoe, in case the drilling hits a boulder.
The first steel casing, with a drive shoe, in case the drilling hits a boulder.

There is also the barn which is being prepped to hold hay and livestock. (Will we have cows?) Christiana ran into a young couple that have done WOOFing, and they helped out by clearing the rotted boards from the barn floor, removing the bee nests, and leveling the dirt floor. Thanks Tomas and Naomi!

Naomi and Tomas, our (sub) WOOFers (since we aren't quite farming yet) helping Tony clean out the barn
Naomi and Tomas, our (sub) WOOFers (since we aren’t quite farming yet) helping Tony clean out the barn
One set of bees that were in the barn, now moved out under shelter from the rain.
One set of bees that were in the barn, now moved out under shelter from the rain.

The bees actually cleaned up, and you might not notice them now. Which reminds me, I have to flag that, so they don’t get stepped on!

That’s it for now, but more to come, as we get there. You know what I mean 😉


The Bees have completely moved, so I don’t need to flag them.

Drilling still going, down to the 80-100 foot range…

(updated tags and Categories)

Heavy Machinery Makes Things Go

We’ve had the marvelous and adept Jasmine at our farm, for the past little while, and she drives Big Machinery.

She made us a road!
She made us a road!

Jasmine has scraped away the two inches of soil on top of the driest and least living part of our farm, so we can use the space for materials storage and parking.  She built an earth berm, filled with brush and old wood, so we have a bit of privacy and delineation (dogwalkers like to know where to go, and we made a nice path) in the short term and a decent place to grow things (hugelkultur!) after a wet winter.  We had our containers delivered, on to cement blocks on top of carefully leveled (by Jasmine) gravel.  Of course, the containers weigh an average of 15,000 lbs apiece, and so they crushed the cement blocks immediately and settled comfortably on the gravel.  Due to Jasmine’s expert leveling job, we didn’t need to do any adjustments to the ad-hoc, not quite-as-planned delivery.

Containers, snuggled into gravel behind the berm.
Containers, from the outside, snuggled into gravel behind the berm.
And from the front!
And from the front!

We’re planning to make a roof between them, for a workshop space and materials storage.  Solar panels on the roof, though that plan is still developing and may change.

Having some heavy machinery on site definitely makes things go faster.  We’ve discovered that the bottom-most field, where there isn’t much growing but trailing blackberries, patchy grass, and alders, was used as a dump site for excess rocks and gravel.  “Lots of road-base!”, declared Jasmine happily.

We’ve got a second berm underway, and a proto-goat-yard.  We’ve planned two minimalist access roads (though no road is minimalist with Jasmine around – she has to make sure it’s level, and won’t get potholey or mucky, and probably has to dig down a meter or so and add some of our newly uncovered road base to make sure it will continue to be a road.  “I’m just returning the land to what it was, before those developers messed around with it!”, says Jasmine, “And don’t you want it to look nice?  How about a nice road, here, and clearing out all that brush?”.  She’s an artist with a backhoe, and it’s awfully nice to have her, even if I have to keep convincing her that some of the plants are fine just where they are.


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