I’ve started seeds already. I have sprouts of onions and fennel reaching toward their grow light. Pepper and cabbage seeds are buried in egg cartons filled with potting soil, ready to germinate. Spring is on its way.
And then it snowed.
And did it ever snow. I don’t know what the official numbers were, but it piled up to at least 15cm at the farm, and it would have been more if the snow hadn’t compacted throughout the day. It was ridiculous how much and for how long it came fluttering out of the sky. Five degrees warmer and we would have had an all-day downpour. Instead, we awoke to a blanket of white.
We had earmarked that Saturday for putting up deer fencing around the property (again… it’s a big job taking multiple weekends). What with the blizzard and the wind and heavy snow weighing down brittle tree branches, we figured it was best not to tempt fate by traipsing around in the forest.
What else were we supposed to do on a snow day? J Roy dug out the toboggan, a classic wood design from Big Al’s childhood, and we tested Kinglet Farm’s incline.
The slope passes the speed test.
My involuntary shrieks as we sped down the hill alerted the neighbours, and Irene and Big Al joined us for some sliding.
Terror in the snow.
The more we tobogganed, the slicker the run became. Eventually we had to topple off the toboggan at the end of the run to avoid crashing into the fence.
So there wasn’t much progress on the deer fence, but at least we didn’t pass up one of Victoria’s rare snow days.
Rooms full of gardeners looking forward to summer.
I’m heading to the NW Flower and Garden Show! It’s held in the Seattle Convention Centre, and hosts a bunch of seminars, show gardens, a marketplace… all sorts of fun stuff for gardeners. Last year I was told they made a garden Hobbiton in one of the conference rooms, so we’ll see what they do this year. I’m also hoping to see a seminar by the nwedible.com lady, since I’ve been following her blog on urban homesteading for a while.
A garden show? I think I’m rapidly turning into Irene.
Behold, the glorious edifice.
We have a new outbuilding on Kinglet Farm. It’s unofficially known as ‘the tent,’ named for its previous incarnation. The skeleton of the tent was resurrected from the bones of a large tent that used to house the previous owner’s llamas. That enormous structure in the front yard, its dirty white covering ripping away with lank tendrils of tarp, was hardly a selling feature. We removed it, and its smaller, dirtier sister, within a week of moving in. For over two years, the poles and clamps were carefully stored in the chicken coop, ‘just in case.’ I need hardly add that the dung-smeared tarp was disposed of with a twelve foot pole.
Last weekend the four of us cleared out the coop. It was time. Cobwebs stretched the width of the ceiling. Spider carcasses were piled in untidy heaps of too many legs. The vacuum became clogged with the thick stickiness of Halloween-worthy webs. Spiders that brought to mind Shelob or Aragog scuttled away from the light as we engaged in epic battle. We won the war, but it was a close thing.
We wanted to use the coop for something other than storage, so the current contents had to go. Much of it went to the trash, recycling, or burn pile. What was left, what was necessary to keep (‘We might need those windows one day! You’ll be sorry if we need them and they’re gone!’), needed a home. Big Al mentioned the long-neglected poles of the llama tent.
We scoped out the space behind the coop without delay. We moved rocks (as always, the farm contains a lot of rocks), and cut blackberry down. We assembled the first loop of the tent.
“It’s… bigger than I remember,” J Roy said, squinting up at the apex of the tent loop we held it upright.
Big Al laughed with worry in his chuckle.
The next loop rose, and we attached the two together with their adjoining poles. This involved a lot of ladder-work to attach the topmost poles, and a lot of necessary shouting as we all disagreed on the levelness of the tent. J Roy finally fetched a carpenter’s level from the workshop, and we realised we had all been arguing for the same thing by different means. Holes were dug and tent legs were raised with rocks, until everyone was satisfied with the tent’s orientation.
Then we did the same thing with tent loop number three. I made good use of the level, and we eventually assembled the tent. We covered it with a massive roof tarp that Irene and Big Al had been saving (‘It was on sale! A ridiculously good sale!’), and anchored it to the ground with, of course, more rocks. That tarp is going nowhere fast.
And hence, a new building was born. May it be a temporary structure, until we build something better in its place.
A few days after putting up the first of the deer fencing, I had a terrible dream. I was in the backyard, and three bucks were between me and the house.
“No big deal,” I thought to myself. “I’ll just walk around them.”
I took my first step, and the closest buck slowly, menacingly, lifted his massive head to gaze at me. I have to mention that these deer were no ordinary quadrupeds. They called to mind the moose in their heft and massiveness, although their antlers were as sharp and branching as an elk’s. These deer had a strength to them not to be trifled with.
The gaze of the closest deer was foreboding in its intent.
“I see you,” it seemed to say. “There’s no way you’re getting to the house without my express permission. Have you been a good human lately?”
I knew the answer to that one. Our plans to eradicate the deer from our property with the deer fencing could not be hidden from the all-knowing deer. I tried to shake off the feelings of menace, and started edging my way around the perimeter of the yard. The watching buck took a step to match mine. The other two deer ceased their grazing and stared at me. I walked a little more quickly. The three deer began to trot. Giving way to panic, I raced for the chicken coop. I threw open the door and barricaded myself inside. The deer pounded at the ridiculously flimsy particleboard door, shaking the frame with every well placed hoof-kick. The door wouldn’t hold for long. And then what?
I awoke, heart pounding. Now I’m afraid to continue putting up the fence. What if the deer take their revenge?
A furry eating machine.
Deer. Our arch nemesis, our gardens’ bane. Vegetation trembles as they pass.
“But they’re so cute!” I hear some of you say. Others of you nod sagely, a grim smile etched onto your face as your own encounters with these beasts surface from the dark waters of memory. You know, yes, you know of what I speak.
But those of us at Kinglet Farm have a plan. We are tired of finding rhododendron shrubs half-smashed to pieces, leaves torn asunder. We are tired of worrying about always wearing hats in the backyard for fear of ticks. We are tired of avoiding the endless piles of turds strewn across the forest floor. Enough is enough. We are done being Motel 6 on the deerway.
The eleven (!) black-tailed deer that currently graze on our front lawn can leap a maximum of six feet three inches, according to the literature. White-tailed deer can manage eight feet, so thank goodness for small mercies. We bought sturdy wire fencing, six and a half feet high. It’s too strong to push down, and too high to jump over. We hope.
This had better work.
Each roll of fencing is three hundred and thirty feet long, and weighs just as much as you think three hundred and thirty feet of six and a half foot high galvanized steel fencing would weigh. J Roy, Big Al, Irene, and I wrestled that behemoth all the way to the top of the property, over fallen trees and errant boulders, with only a modicum of cursing. Everyone had a different idea of unrolling it and installing it, and we had a few minutes of loud discussion and wild gesticulation as we all attempted to make our plans heard. Eventually we agreed on a method, and the unrolling began.
It went incredibly smoothly, all things considered. We dug supporting poles and constructed triangle supports propped up with rocks to hold the fencing in place. Big Al connected four industrial strength extension cords together and hauled up the compressor and staple gun, which made light work of attaching the fencing to the poles. I rolled up endless strings of barbed wire, which had made up the previous fence. Barbed wire is fine for sheep, perhaps, but the deer soar gracefully over the useless three foot high wire.
It was a long day, but we managed to put up fencing over two-thirds of the northwest side. It looks amazingly strong. The deer haven’t breached it yet, despite the fact that it directly impedes one of their main highways. Of course, it hasn’t stopped them from simply walking around the fence and happily munching on our plants once again, but we are patient. One day the fence will be done, and then we’ll see who’s laughing, deer. Then we’ll see who’s laughing.
So our first mead was tasty, and the rest were way too soft. What’s the point of a 7% mead? And why did our other meads fail when the first one was so successful?
J Roy put on our thinking caps and deduced that the only difference between batch one and batches two through five was the water. The Zellers water that contributed to the first batch smelled kind of manky coming out of the bottle, so we switched to Safeway water for the rest of the batches. Big mistake: we think that the pH of the Safeway water was much lower than that of the Zellers water. Our yeast was growing briefly in the beginning, but as yeast grow and metabolise they lower pH on their own. The Safeway water had a low enough pH originally that the yeast eventually acidified their environment beyond their tolerance, and so died before converting all the sugar into alcohol.
Now we’ve bought potassium bicarbonate to increase the pH, and pH paper to test it. This weekend, we’ll start a new batch. Here’s hoping we correctly deduced our issues. Perhaps by my birthday in June we can have some lovely mead to celebrate with.
J Roy and I have been working on a new hobby for the past year (has it been a year already?). Neither of us drinks beer, and good wine is wasted on us. My motto is, ‘the sweeter the better.’ I suppose our brewing started with J Roy’s interest in making sodas. There was a recipe in his soda-making book that outlined the steps to create a fermented honey soda. It was delicious.
‘Imagine if we made this with our own honey from our own bees?” J Roy’s eyes were bright with excitement.
“With spring water from the farm?” I replied.
“And then we could blow the glass bottles ourselves, and harvest the yeast from the air,” J Roy said.
“Very funny,” I said.
It was a simple step from a honey soft drink to brewing something a little harder.
“What about mead?” I asked as we tasted our sweet fizzy drink, the slight beery aftertaste reminding me of the microbes that begat it. “And then we can buy fancy goblets to drink it from, and rename our dining room the mead hall, and start each meal with a ‘Wassail!’”
“Drinkail!” J Roy replied in the proper fashion*, and we clanked glasses and downed the rest of the soda in one.
J Roy did his research, we bought the ingredients, and so it began.
I put my lab skills to good use disinfecting the kitchen with bleach to prepare a sterile environment for working with our little yeasties. Clearly, this is what I’ve been preparing for my entire laboratory career.
Nice and clean in the home lab.
We started with a simple mead, using oranges to bring down the pH and raisins for yeast nutrients. We bought water so it wasn’t chlorinated (this was done at the apartment), and honey from Costco. (‘One day…’ J Roy said wistfully.)
The whole is more than the sum of the parts.
We followed the recipe to a tee, and then left the result in a cupboard for months. We attempted more versions, but we couldn’t tell if what we were doing was working, because it takes months for mead to age. We tried it early, and it was definitely too early.
Eventually we tried the first bottle, and it was actually pretty good. We got excited, and purchased a refractometer (a nifty gadget for measuring sugar content in liquid… very labbish). We tested the other four (!) meads we had made in the meantime. Disaster: none had reached their maximum alcohol potential, and all the yeast had died while there was still plenty of honey and nutrients left in the bottles.
What to do? See next week for continuation of the mead saga…
* According to Bill Bryson. Not sure which book. My brain’s a little fuzzy. That’s apparently the old-fashioned reply to ‘wassail’ (similar to ‘cheers!’). But I couldn’t find anything in a three second internet search, so either Bill made it up or he’s more meticulous than I am at researching ancient drinking games.