• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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First window

Preparing to install the first window in the new house, fittingly in the tower (all photos by second son),

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And it’s in,

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The tower has six windows, one of which will be operable; the east wall of the living room (the photo just above is facing east) will have window near the tower, so with both of those open we’ll be able to have nice cross breezes from Spring through Fall.

 

Tower rising

Tom (at right) and crew (including older son, at left) started building the tower today. And the windows arrived earlier this week.

Photos by younger son,

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Using the invaluable telehandler,

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A few shots I took this evening,

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Inside the tower,

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Spring

Spring arrived with a cold snap, heavy winds, and the possibility of snow. The overnight temp is forecasted to be -20C, with a wind chill of -30. Not ideal for calving, especially since we had three calves last night and one this morning. Tom and the kids spent part of the moving calf sheds into the pens for extra shelter.

One of my amaryllises from two years ago started sending up a flower stalk, and began blooming over the weekend (ignore the brown on the edge of one of the petals). Right around the same time I picked up these tulips at the florist shop in town, and they’re still hanging on.

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New camera

I haven’t had a camera for a few years — Laura started borrowing mine and then just absorbed it. When I wanted a picture of something, I’ve had to borrow a camera from the kids, or ask them to take a picture for me. I noticed that Best Buy had a little Canon Powershot A1400 on sale for $70, and it has good reviews at Amazon. The viewfinder was a nice surprise, because I sometimes have difficulty seeing the LCD display outdoors in bright sun.

I went out the other evening, just before sunset, to take some pictures to give it a whirl.

One of the many welcome puddles at the corrals,

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In addition to the portable windbreaks, we also got some portable fence panels which are very handy,

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The base of the portable panel,

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First floor

We have a floor, and wall construction is beginning. We also have warmer temperatures (a difference of about 40 degrees in less than week), much appreciated by us and all the animals, especially the cows who’ve started calving.

The new floor; the hole in the floor at left is for the staircase, the bump out at right is the windowed dining room (all photos by son #2),

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Standing in the dining room, with the kitchen at left and staircase ahead,

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Making the floor for the tower,

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Making a wall,

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One of the oddest — and cutest — looking calves I’ve seen in 20 years,

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A baby hiding in the straw,

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Our new portable windbreaks, with initial construction at a nearby Hutterite colony, with final welding by the kids,

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Trusses and joists

January and February were exceedingly cold, and Tom’s apprentice was off for two months for his courses. So Tom used the time to catch up on a variety of smaller indoor jobs, and paperwork, including completing our environmental farm plan. We also had our annual organic recertification application, which always takes awhile.

A few weeks ago, we took delivery of our roof trusses and floor joists.

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We also ordered the windows for the house, since most window companies run sales in the winter.

Other things we’ve been busy with — lots of curling, skiing (twice), 4H public speaking (all of the kids went to Districts, and the boys are headed to regionals with their presentation), and watching the Olympics. Laura and Daniel took a 15-hour driver’s ed course (10 more hours each to come, behind the wheel). And Laura has a summer job lined up already, at the local Ag Society’s office, prepare for the fair in July. Daniel has taken up welding, which he enjoys.

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And Laura made panna cotta, twice, which was lovely; she used the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which you can also find here. And chocolate macarons, which tasted better than they looked, so we’re looking forward to more and more practice sessions. Just to be helpful, of course. The boys’ 4H presentation is on how to make sausage, so they’ve been making — and we’ve been eating — lots of sausage, mostly Italian style with fennel seed, but there’s talk of venison sausage with dried cranberries, too.

Oh, and we had a new baby, considerably earlier than all the rest, which should start to come later this month.

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Still remembering

In my earlier post today remembering Pete Seeger, I mentioned seeing him perform at South Street Seaport for an autumn festival. Turns out it was October 1972, according to the caption on the back of the photograph my father took.

Here it is, with Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick) and Pete Seeger at South Street Seaport. My younger sister and mother are at the bottom, in the clear plastic rain bonnets my grandmother and mother used to keep in their purses.

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Adding to the walls

The basement walls will be nine feet high, so Tom added wooden “parapet” walls to the poured concrete walls to raise the height.

Some of the parapet walls under construction (all photos by Davy),

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The tower parapet wall  is made from a recycled corrugated steel granary, modified in size (pressed down from 19 feet to 14 feet). Tom started by making a template from plywood, which he set on an OSB base,

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Putting the tower parapet wall in place with our telehandler,

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Some of the walls in place,

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Next up: construction of concrete footings and frost walls for the garage, covered veranda, and covered deck

*  *  *

Over the holidays, we had periods of lovely weather (around 0 C, even slightly above freezing) including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, alternating with bloody cold -30 C (not including wind chill), wind, and snow. We had some nice weather last week, but the weekend was frigid again, and after a cold day outside, we enjoyed the warmth of the house with a viewing of “Slap Shot”, venison sausages with red cabbage,  twinkling lights on the tree, and the faint jingling of the Swedish angel chimes. The next day I started the undecorating, including removing each and every piece of contraband German lead tinsel, for re-use. Here’s to a new year and the promise of warming later this week…

“McCracken, also known as Dr Hook for his scalpel-like prowess with the stick, has been known to carve a man’s eye out with a flick of the wrist. There’s a carnival-like atmosphere here. The crowd is gathered and, well, you can feel it, there’s an air of expectancy.”

Merry Christmas

from our (farm) house to yours.

'Bringing Back the Tree' by Angela Harding

“Bringing Back the Tree” by Angela Harding, a greeting card reproduced from a lithograph; also available directly from the artist, and available as a tea towel, too

(For the first time in years, we didn’t head north to cut down a tree. I thought we’d save some time, with busy weekends and daylight so brief, by buying a tree. I found a lovely one in a store lot on the day we took the chickens and turkeys to be butchered, and the kids loaded it up for me.)

Squash tian (aka casserole)

One of my new favorite recipes — a squash/pumpkin casserole. I found the recipe at The Kitchn; Faith Durand adapted it from Rosa Jackson, a Canadian-born food writer and cooking teacher based in Nice and Paris. The original recipe, Tian de courge, is at Rosa’s old blog; don’t miss Rosa’s current blog, Edible Adventures. This is a lovely dish for a cozy, lazy autumn or winter meal. It can be doubled easily, you can use any sort of squash or pumpkin you can find, and is perfect for a potluck. It goes great with a ham, roast chicken or turkey, or beef or pork roast.

I’ve made some changes, which I’ve highlighted below. I made it last weekend, to accompany a ham at a Christmas potluck, with a smallish butternut squash and a large Kabocha squash. I’m making it again for our big family Christmas eve turkey dinner, with a butternut squash and two acorn squashes.

*  *  *

Butternut Squash Tian with Herbed Bread Crumbs

Recipe adapted by Faith Durand/The Kitchn from Rosa Jackson. Serves 4

2 to 2 1/2-pound whole butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1/4 cup short-grain or arborio rice (I use short-grain)
2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg
Provencal breadcrumbs (recipe below)

Heat the oven to 375° F and lightly grease a 1-1/2 to 2-quart baking dish (such as a deep pie dish) with olive oil.

Peel and slice the butternut squash. You should have 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds prepared squash flesh. Heat the olive oil in a deep sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the squash in the olive oil with a sprinkling of salt until it softens and starts to disintegrate, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cover for most of the cooking time to speed the process. (I sauté the butternut, but bake the Kabocha/acorn squash)

While the squash is cooking, heat a small saucepan of salted water over high heat. When it is boiling, add the rice. Cook for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Place the cooked squash in a large bowl and combine with the rice, Parmesan, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and generous dashes of pepper and nutmeg. When it has cooled slightly, mix in the eggs quickly so that they don’t scramble. The mixture may seem on the liquid side, but this is fine.

Pour it into the prepared gratin dish, top with the herbed bread crumbs (recipe below) and a generous drizzle of olive oil. (If desired, you can prepare to this point, cover and refrigerate for up to two days. When ready to serve, bake as directed below.)

Bake for 35 minutes or until slightly toasted on top and set. Serve warm.

This recipe doubles very well; I (Faith Durand writing) use a 4-pound squash and bake the tian in a 9×13-inch casserole dish.

Herbed Bread Crumbs
1 cup dried bread crumbs
1 big handful flat-leaf parsley, leaves only (I use what the supermarket had, which often is only the curly variety)
Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs of thyme or rosemary (I use a mixture of dried thyme and rosemary)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a food processor, blend together all the ingredients except the olive oil. Add the olive oil and blend until the breadcrumbs are soft and green, adding a little more oil if necessary. Season well with salt and pepper. (I don’t use a food processor. I use a rasp for the garlic and cheese, my knife for the parsley, and I sauté the garlic in the oil, then toss in the breadcrumbs to coat, sauté for another few minutes, then stir in parsley to coat. I like the flavor of the sautéed garlic, and I like not having to take apart and clean the food processor.)

Basement walls and damp-proofing

The house, looking to the north (rounded tower wall at top right),

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Daniel and damp-proofing,

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The sub-garage, for the cistern and cold storage room,

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Davy’s long shadow (Solstice, here we come…),

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The sonotube concrete forms, for the front porch support pillars,

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Inside a sonotube,

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Sticky toffee pudding

This has become our favorite winter dessert this year. I bake it in a square metal pan, grease it well, and put home-canned pear halves on the bottom before I add the batter, and then serve it with unsweetened whipped cream and chopped candied ginger on top. We had a version with the pears, sort of like a pineapple upside down cake, when we were living in the West Indies about 10 years and it was one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten. Here’s another version with pears, though these are fresh and unpeeled. I would imagine apples (peeled) would be good, too.

The version below is from the Hunter’s Head Tavern, an “authentic English pub” in Upperville, Virginia via Bon Appétit magazine. Nigella Lawson has a very good version as well, but it calls for self-raising flour, which is hard to come by in this part of the world. It goes without saying that Farm School is Team Nigella.

Sticky Toffee Pudding (from the Bon Appétit website)
Serves 6

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1-1/2 cups flour, plus more for flouring pan
1-1/2 cups (6 oz) chopped pitted dates (I cut off thin slices with a serrated bread knife)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt (omit if you use salted butter)
3/4 cup sugar (the original recipe calls for 1 cup, we prefer it less sweet)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Sauce
1-1/4 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 tsp brandy (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350 °. Butter and flour pan. The online recipe calls for a Bundt pan, and the last time we used a Nordic Ware sunflower pan, which worked well.

Bring dates and 1-1/4 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan with tall sides (the tall sides are important because in the next step, the date mixture will foam UP). Cook the dates until they are sludgy, and use a potato masher if necessary (if you didn’t chop/grate them finely enough).

Remove pan from heat and whisk in baking soda (mixture will become foamy). Set aside; let cool.

Whisk together 1-1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt (if using) in a small bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend (mixture will be grainy). Add 1 egg; beat to blend. Add half of flour mixture and half of date mixture; beat to blend. Repeat with remaining egg, flour mixture, and date mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake until a tester inserted into center of cake comes out almost clean, 40 minutes or so (start checking at about 30 minutes). Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert pudding onto rack. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Sauce
Bring sugar, cream, and butter to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in brandy, if using, and vanilla. Can be made up to 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm gently before using.

Cut cake into wedges. Serve with sauce and whipped cream, and garnish with chopped candied ginger if you like.

We have basement walls

We have basement walls, but we’ve also had more frigid temperatures (-30C), high wind chills (well below -30), arctic winds, blowing snow, and icy roads. So my hopes of all the insulated tarps coming off for better overview pictures are postponed for now.

But this is what I have,

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Aha, cured concrete:

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Our dog Lady guarding the new walls,

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Cattle not very impressed with the weather either,

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Happy Thanksgiving

to Farm School’s American friends. Tomorrow is a regular work and school day here, and while our turkeys get to survive the day, it’s only until next week, since they’re destined for customers’ Christmas tables…

(all photos by Davy)

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And this lucky fellow, a Buff Orpington-Red Rock Cross rooster we raised, gets to stick around for a good long time. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Basement walls, part I

We postponed pouring concrete until yesterday — last week’s highs were in the -20s C but they started to warm up on the weekend, with daily highs just under freezing. Much easier on the people, not to mention the concrete. It was an all-day project, from about 10 to 5, and then checking on the heaters and tarps.

All photos by Davy with his new camera (the old one had spots on the lens from within somehow), which explains why he’s not in any of them.

One of the concrete trucks arriving Monday morning. All together, three trucks came with a total of six loads,

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Laura and Daniel,

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Daniel in the chute helping to clear it out,

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The concrete starting to dry,

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Laura in the turret section,

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Davy took this under the tarps and between the forms and excavation,

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Covering the concrete with insulated tarps,

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Icicles

It’s been bloody cold here this past week, in the low -20s without wind chill, which has been considerable. And lots of snow and ice. We made a hair-raising trip to Edmonton last weekend for building supplies, more or less skating the entire way. Not nearly enough sanding trucks on the road, and too many vehicles spun out or slid into the medians and ditches.

These icicles, however, are purely decorative and lovely.

"Icicle Splendor" arrangement by Julie Mulligan; photo by Julie Mulligan from her blog,

“Icicle Splendor” arrangement by Julie Mulligan; photo by Julie Mulligan from her blog, Petal Talk

I found the idea last December on a flower blog I read, Julie Mulligan’s Petal Talk, and Pinned it, and shockingly it’s one of my most popular pins, passing 300. The arrangement is supposed to be for New Year’s, but it’s a beautiful winter idea, especially if winter comes early in your part of the world. Julie calls it “Icicle Splendor”, and says,

I absolutely love the way it looks when the bare tree branches of winter become covered with ice. You can easily create that same dramatic look in your home using birch branches and acrylic icicles. First, I filled the cylinder with a strand of clear lights and pinecones, before I inserted the branches, which gives this arrangement even more impact.

I have the clear glass vase, the birch branches, pinecones, and clear lights (warm white, since I can’t stand the bluish cool white ones), but the icicle ornaments have been harder to get my hands on in this part of the world. We have a trip to the big city in about 10 days to the orthodontist for braces installation, so am thinking a Michael’s store might be the way to go.

I’d love to know if any of the 300+ pinners have made their own versions of this, and what it looks like.

Summer’s last gasp

Summer gasped its last sometime last month, but I’m only now getting around to posting these pictures.

I have boxes and boxes of tomatoes still, here are a few, and the last of the eggplants. This was the first year I grew eggplants, and they did surprisingly well.

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Yes, that is a propane tank at far right. No, that’s not where it belongs.

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A small garter snake took up residence this summer under our deck, and liked to sun itself on the concrete pad in front of the house,

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A blog reader recommendation: my blog reading is down considerably but I still prefer a blog reader for speed and efficiency. When Google Reader died, I went back briefly to Bloglines (of course, I ended up at Google Reader when Bloglines was first killed off). But I just couldn’t get comfortable reading there. I tried all the new options and didn’t like any of them, and finally (can’t remember how, maybe here?) found InoReader, which I like very much, and which is easy, fast, free, and good looking.

Summer snapshots

A bit late, but a few photos from my summer. No hail this year for the first time in three years, thank goodness, but very dry and lots of hungry voles.

The garden and a number of my containers were full of sunflowers, none of which I planted — all came thanks to Laura’s birds and the birdfeeders full of sunflower seeds,

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The boys’ new projects. The goal is lamb chops,

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Back

We had a productive week in NYC, getting reacquainted with the building maintenance staff (we were frequent users of the service elevator, and made good use of the building dumpsters and hand trucks). Tom and the kids also got to know the staff at the nearby Goodwill and Salvation Army stores, hauling 60 boxes with about 1,500 books.

The first full day, with a bird walk for Laura and boating for the boys all in Central Park, we learned on arrival back at the hotel that there had been an extreme heat/humidity alert. The heat and humidity continued for the rest of the week, until Friday.  We never made it to Trader Joe’s (since there was a line to get into the place and life is just to short) or to Lincoln Center or a movie, because by the time we were done at the office every evening, we were hot, tired, and hungry. We did, though, get to hear and meet one of Tom’s favorite authors, Mark Kurlansky, who gave a talk at the nearby Barnes & Noble about his newest book.

The kids discovered the magic that is Halal food carts. And we had some very good Chinese and Indian food, and picnic lunches and dinners with great bread, cheese, pickled herring from Murray’s Sturgeon Shop, and beautiful blueberries (from New Jersey, three pints for $5). And lots and lots of walking.

We all enjoyed the vet clinic with entertaining calico kittens in the window just steps from the hotel, and Laura had fun at the Sephora across the street (able to try on nail polish and eyeshadow to her heart’s content), and Davy tried on every pair of sunglasses at Eastern Mountain Sports, also across the street. Appropriately enough, there are little trees growing in the sewer on the corner by EMS (all photos by Laura),

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Aside from the Upper West Side location, laundry room, and great breakfasts (very good bagels and croissants), our room came with a small balcony, which was a pleasant surprise. And good for bird watching and listening, according to Laura.

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While I’ve noticed a bit on other trips, it was quite apparent for this first summer trip in 20 years how much NYC has put into landscaping its public spaces, from the Central Park Nature Conservancy (the restoration efforts in the past two decades are truly a marvel) and whoever looks after Madison Square Park, to the garden areas outside the First Baptist Church at Broadway and 79th Street,

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Our welcome back to the prairies last night on the drive home from the airport,

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Good to be home.

Much too much

Last Tuesday evening we had 4″ of rain in two hours at our house, and close to 6″ at our corrals. The most rain in the shortest time most people around here have ever seen. For the past few days we’ve had temperatures around 30 C, which wouldn’t be that bad if the house weren’t geared toward keeping the heat in rather than out, and if we didn’t have all sorts of weeding to do in the hot sun. The greenhouse was still 100 F at 9 pm tonight. Not a good combination with hot flashes.

We started on our first cut of hay a few days ago, the boys cut all the alfalfa and tomorrow they’ll be ready to start raking and baling. We’re under the gun to get it done because we have a last-minute trip to NYC — the office is moving after 22 years in its current space, and there are still things from my parents (and from almost 50 years ago) to sort through, discard, and give away. We’ll be there a week, and the kids will be manning the hand truck, taking boxes of books and other things to the thrift store several blocks away. Unfortunately, while I think this week has been fairly pleasant in NYC, it looks like next week will be in the 90s. But I’ve been able to promise the kids considerably more air conditioning than we have here. Not the best time of year to remove ourselves from the farm and work, but the only time available between now and September, when the office gets packed up. We’re staying on the Upper West Side as usual, between Fairway and Zabar’s, and will have a kitchenette (and also laundry facilities), so we’re looking forward to quick and easy meals, augmented by nearby Chinese restaurants and hamburgers and shakes at the Shake Shack. The kids are campaigning for on one lobster meal (from Fairway, which sells and also steams them). There’s also apparently a new Trader Joe’s in the neighborhood; we enjoyed the one near our hotel in Washington, DC several years ago (though the line-up to pay was crazy), but that was in Foggy Bottom with only the sad Watergate Safeway for competition.

I’m taking advantage of the situation to order some things we have trouble getting up here — cheap reading glasses, cheap bras, French baking powder, and perfume, which Canada Post considers “dangerous/flammable goods” (living where I do, perfume choices are limited if you’d prefer to smell like vintage decants rather than like JLo, Jessica Simpson, or Pink Sugar). I don’t know how much time or energy we’ll have for any entertainment/cultural activities in the evenings, but it would be fun to take the kids to watch and listen to one evening of Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.

Laura is off to the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario again in August, this time for a month, to work as an intern, helping with the migration monitoring and working on her own research project, a Monarch butterfly census to see if the numbers recorded in Mexico in December hold up at this end. She’s been very busy with all of her bird stuff, keeping up with her bird blog, starting another blog for our naturalist society, working on her Young Birder of the Year projects, fundraising for Bird Studies Canada with a birdathon. By the way, if you live in Canada and are interested in both bird conservation and donating to a good cause, Laura is gratefully accepting any and all donations until the end of July via her birdathon page at BSC. Thank you and apologies for this bit of fundraising / advertising, which I tend to be allergic to in real and blog life.

The garden is going great guns, though the extremes of dry heat followed by moist heat have provided a bug buffet, and a boon for funguses and such. The powdery mildew is enjoying itself tremendously on the pumpkins, sigh.

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A bowl of succulents — perennial hens-and-chicks I’ll transplant into the garden at the end of the summer,

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A red begonia with creeping jenny,

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A hosta about to bloom,

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The Virginia creeper sneaking up on a chair,

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Mexican giant hyssop (Agastache mexicana “Acapulco”); the hummingbird and bees just love this, probably because it smells like citronella,

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