There’s more than one rat

So after the trauma of our first rat encounter, I reset the trap and no hits for two weeks. I was up for morning coffee and on the phone with a co-worker when my daughter appeared and said ‘We need to talk’. Uh, oh. where is this headed? I imagined the worse but what I didn’t expect to hear is – there’s a rat in the trap and there’s one a lot bigger roaming. He’s black and he’s big.

Now I don’t have an immaculate house by any means but. by god, we aren’t living in a barn here! I am immediately on the phone with my pest control guy from work. Ok, his humour and mine about pests is ‘it is what it is’. He is giving me helpful tips – seal off the areas they are coming in, spray bleach around the parameter, set traps…blah, blah,blah. He has no idea this house is 138 years old and has a million entry points.

So I phone him after the second incident and tell him to bring more traps and tell him my plan of action. He’s a little concerned when I am prepared to spray the entire basement with bleach.

“Well, I don’t want you conking yourself out from the fumes” he explains.

“Why? So they aren’t eating my carcass?” I reply.

“Well, you know, it’s another food source…”

Rats carry more stigma than any other rodent. I secreted the trapped rat down the yard and tossed it over the fence with the dogs jumping at my catch. They don’t get stealth. If questioned I was prepared to say I had trapped and killed a cute little chipmunk and was willing to face the wrath because the prejudice of a rat in my home far outweighed the backlash of killing a much more beloved, cuter rodent.

I am on a mission. I have suddenly become a mason. It’s amazing how good you can be at something when you are motivated. This afternoon I started re-cementing the foundation and sealing the cracks. That’s really fucking hard work! Those little bags weigh a lot and they don’t go very far but I managed to finish off a small section and it looks pretty damn smart.

I decided to take a break on the riding mower and cut the grass. Just about ran over a big Garter snake and a wee munchkin garter. I have seen 2 snakes in ten years on this property. This year there is an entire family and there has been a dozen sightings. Don’t they eat rodents!? What kind of pussy ant snakes am I harbouring here? I finally stopped the tractor and started screaming at one of them. “Get in that house and do your goddamn job!!”

Pretty sure we just have one evil malcontent here that is wise to the trap. I played the last scene of the movie “Ben” for my daughter since I have been hearing the song over and over in my head. In all sickness, she has been fantasizing about creating a facebook profile for the lone rouge. She considered creating a few others and having them all send me facebook friend requests and liking my foodie pictures.

What kind of twisted shit is this!!?

Now she wonders how I can even kill the rogue after watching Ben. Oh I can, trust me!.

 

 

 

 

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Pest Control

It’s interesting the pests you eliminate and the ones you introduce on the quest to grow your own produce, become self-sustainable and practice – natures way. I think I have mentioned before the generations of squirrels that have taken up residence in my attic for the past century. I have tried numerous tactics to extradite them from this old house but they feel a sense of entitlement that has been hard to eradicate. A sense that my beloved German Shepherd has managed to turn on it’s heels in the last few years with her compulsive hate for bushy tailed rodents.

Last fall I had enough produce to finally fill my coffers.I chose to store it in my son’s old bedroom – if you can call it that. An old kitchen off the west wall, with a separate foundation. It’s a large room, with noteworthy charm, but cold as hell in the winter and much more accessible than manhandling the  50 pound trap door to access the basement, where who-knows-what-dwells.

It was well into the winter before I began to see the tell tale signs of something nibbling on my harvest. It was shortly after that when I began to hear something larger than a mouse but smaller than a moose. This is when I began to turn the volume up on my computer.

Spring arrived and the random noises continued. As summer has progressed the ‘larger than a mouse’ noises persisted and moved into the kitchen. I saw the signs; holes in the bags of flour, the dogs sniffing about. I turned up the computer.

This past week I decided to deal with this unwanted pest….and yes, I suspected it was a rat but like head lice, I remained in denial. Likely a chubby chipmunk with heavy feet I reasoned. I asked my pest control guy from work to hook me up with a trap. I told him only that it was bigger than a mouse. That’s when he gave me JAWS. He left a plastic contraption on my desk. It looked unimposing, sleek and efficient. I thought there would be a big learning curve but it was simple to set and bait and after testing, gave a ferocious snap. I assumed this was a trap designed to kill – instantly.

Well, you know, things are never what you assume. I baited JAWS with some peanut butter and wedged it beside the stove. I dreaded checking it the next morning but was relieved it was untouched. I pictured trapping something ‘larger than a mouse’ and having the distasteful and brief guilt of disposing of the mysterious rodent. What I didn’t expect is what took place the next night.

I woke at 3:00 am. Nothing untoward, just a random, restless wake up call and the frustration of trying to get back to sleep. Then the snap! Then the dogs racing to the kitchen. I wasn’t near the computer so I turned up the TV. My ever helpful daughter felt the need to investigate and was in tears.

“There’s a kitten in the trap! It’s purring!!”

No kitten. It was a rat and as rats are want, it was deceivingly guileless with it’s poor head in the trap, whining with an endearing and heart wrenching squeaking. I tried to walk away and return to my bed, thinking it would be over soon but I could hear the poor thing fighting and whimpering in desperation. My daughter was in her room crying and I, in all good conscious could not let the horror continue.

As a sidebar I should mention – during any level of anxiety in this house my daughter’s two- year old black lab hides between your legs. I am wearing a loose fitting nighty.

Clad in my nighty, flip flops and donning gloves, the lab following between my legs, head in my crotch, I pull the whining, squirming, rat-in-a-trap from beside the stove and briefly consider putting it back in my son’s room with a block of cheese and my never ending apologies. Sanity prevailed and I headed for the front door, lab still up my crotch, the rat flailing in the trap and flung it onto the neighbour’s lawn.I know it will probably come right back in but I am not loading it up in the car and driving at 4am in my nighty, with a lab under my skirts.

So if any of my neighbours were looking out their window in the wee hours of the morning here is what they saw: that crazy rat made a bee-line straight back to my property and I stomped my feet and chased it down the road screaming like a crazed woman. I don’t think a rat has ever booked it like that thing did down any street, especially one with whiplash.

My trap is set again but I am wearing fleece pants to bed for the next week and I am going to watch Ben.

 

 

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Recap

Wow – two new posts in as many nights…I’m on a roll. I was reading through the old posts and thought it might be a good time for an update. After a couple of months I forget what I have spewed on about but I see it has all centered around a cohesive theme, albeit a little on the serious, doom and gloom side.

So on a brighter note. I managed to conquer that whole composting thing. I dump that smelly, overflowing crap into my wooden crate and cover it with mulch and soil and mix it up every now and then. That is after the resident raccoon has a go at it (he/she has moved out of the barn into my attic btw) I was going to put a live trap on the deck but I was worried he was a she and possibly had some babies up there. I don’t need that guilt.

I figured I wouldn’t do much with the compost but I have cleaned the crate out twice and spread that dark goodness throughout my expanding edible forest ( ok – not so much a forest as a mush-mash of plants and seeds scattered around the property). The compost sits right beside a large maple which I tapped, feeling all nostalgic about my brother and I – you know – trespassing and drilling all those holes in the neighbours trees. Still brings a tear to my eye…

On the upside the syrup turned out amazing. Lovely golden, pure delicious syrup and I seem to have outgrown that allergy (Or maybe we were tapping sumac or hogwort back in the day) but regardless it was a success! I was at it for weeks; collecting, boiling, even put it in mason jars (3) with a label. The downside was the $500 dollar hydro bill. Yep – won’t be going into production anytime soon.

Oh, and that whole inner turmoil with the degrowth paradigm? I had to take on job number four then five to pay for the quest into self sustainability, well that and the hydro bill, but I’ve kicked it back to three now and gave up on the hoop house and the yurt. After all – I do have a house here already so I may as well use it.

And then there is the goat, Arthur. Turns out raising semi domesticated livestock is not at all like raising wildlife. They don’t return to the wild. When he became weaned from the bottle I loaded him up in the car to start visiting and acclimatizing to the farm from whence he came. The friend and owner of the farm asked if I would like a crate to transport him in. Hunh? I opened the passenger door and he road shotgun, gazing out the window at the new sights and reveling in the fresh wind in his face out the open window. Goats are just awesome that way – they don’t get all freaked out about new experiences.

We arrived at the barn and he followed me into the ‘goat’s pen’. The utter look of disdain has never dissipated. Despite the screaming and crying and anguish I knew I had to stop carrying on and let the amalgamation happen. Unfortunately Arthur did not take to the goats and the owner has had to accommodate for the “pet” goat who has his own pen, requires daily walks and places him self slightly above the dogs and far removed from the goat species.

So where does that leave us? I continue to experiment with the permaculture venture and it involves a lot of time and effort and fun. Where, from sheer lack of experience, I felt completely intimidated and threatened by the “experts” I have moved past that as I realize that the majority of us are all learning and experimenting and although we may be at different levels of the game, most want to offer encouragement and support and help. It is a common goal and there’s no sense letting egos get in the way. That’s how we got into this boat to begin with.

There’s something really satisfying about getting to know the ground around you whether it is a small urban plot or large acreage. When you really get to know that microcosm you call home you have a much greater appreciation of the bigger picture.

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Going on Instinct

I apologize for neglecting my blog. I have been busy trying to put my money where my mouth is. The permaculture thing…I think even permacultaralists find that too limiting. In theory it embodies a form of agriculture that is more romantic than practical in most applications.

Whatever form it takes for the would-be gardener, farmer, entrepreneur…the bottom line is the sense we can not sustain our current practices or our current lifestyle and that change must come. Change in the shape of reorganizing our priorities, finding a way to make time for our families and pleasures despite the pressures and questioning what is dished out by marketing campaigns, the media and our government.

The new climate change report will be swept under the carpet until we really face the reality of it and it is not an “if” but a “when”. It has already started with escalating energy costs and you may choose to believe there is a shortage because of low reserves or market speculation and civil unrest; but the truth is, they are way ahead of all of us at predicting usage, and civil unrest will always be the end result, not the driving factor of energy consumption.

The fear mongers are out there espousing the evils of Monsanto, genetically modified produce and livestock; flashing horrific videos of cattle being bludgeoned, newborn chicks being tossed out in garbage bags and demonizing fast food corporations. Shock and awe techniques because the science may not be there to make the case. But the science wasn’t there for the damage we were doing to our planet either. Now it is. And yet it slips quietly onto page 12 of the lifestyle section while the media focuses it’s eye on the more tangible; the more here and now and that makes it not a fact – not real anymore and most of us want to sleep at night.

So are they fear mongers? Sometimes we just know when something is bad. We don’t need science to tell us. Maybe, just maybe we know instinctively when we shouldn’t eat something, or we shouldn’t hunt all our food to the point of extinction. Sometimes all we have to go on is instinct.

Case in point: A farmer friend stopped to question the company applying sludge to the neighbours farm. They have low laying acreage adjacent and after a previous application, that acreage was orange the following year and remains relatively unproductive since. The friend asked if they were supposed to maintain a certain distance from property lines. She received a defensive, bullying response. Obviously employees who are trying to earn a living and tired of being attacked. Just like the owners of the land who can’t afford the high cost of commercial fertilizers and choose to ignore the controversy over sludge application because they can’t afford to be informed.

So there is the crux of the matter. Everyone lives to their means and if you try to take those means away you will meet with resistance. Understandably so. The answer does not lay in convincing anyone of the folly of their ways. Not the politicians, the farmers, the corporations or the consumers. It will come down to supply and demand. Only as individuals, whether you call it permaculture, living off the grid, environmentalism, treehugging, self sustainability; or whatever label that fits, in whatever form or fashion – each of us, choosing to make a difference through less consumption, less wanting, providing more for ourselves and having less of a carbon footprint – THAT is what will ultimately make the difference.

This is one time we can’t make a change as a group but as a group of individuals… we have yet to realize our power.

 

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June 23, 2014 · 12:38 am

What is Permaculture?

Well day 2 of the Whole Earth Summit where all the muckety mucks of the permaculture movement converge and talk endlessly about, you know…permaculture stuff. Anyone who dabbles in permaculture will recognize some of the names; Dr. Vandana Shiva, Geoff Lawton, Joel Salatin…a pretty mixed bunch of characters with their own specialties and egos (if you listen to the talk) but all with a common goal and a well purposed one at that.

I attempted to join the online conference via skype. I have never used skype. Once my daughter assured me there were no hidden webcams on my computer for thousands of people across the world to watch me feet up, drink in hand, in my pyjamas I decided to give it a go. Well…turned out a no go. After an hour of frustration I gave up and tuned into Masterchef Canada. Ya, ya…I know…the epitome of waste, indulgence and consumption. What can I say – I’m a walking contradiction. Besides, I like it when they get scrapping.

Finally someone sent me a link so I could listen to the Summit online. Now maybe it’s just me. Maybe I require the visual element (although I can listen to CBC for hours) but I was nodding off after ten minutes. Maybe I was just permacultured out last night but I realized how many of these die hard permies think of nothing else all day. They scour the internet for groups to join – permaculture, edible forests, living off the grid…their facebooks are filled with permaculture links, green earth promotion, hugelKultur, guild planting, solar energy, global warming predictions…there’s a lot of stuff out there!

The scarey part is I get it. Thank God I am still posting pictures of my kids on my facebook and bashing Harper and Ford every chance I get. I haven’t tipped over the edge yet. But I know it’s starting. I find myself laying in bed at night with visions of seedlings and guilds in my head. I was invited to a brunch on the weekend with women I had never met and cleverly steered the conversation around to gardening and permaculture. I could tell the one women was keen and an avid gardener. Yes, but do you do it the permaculture way?

Now there is the question of the day. What is the permaculture way? I’m on these groups and sites. I see tilling and rows of single crops. I thought this was exactly what permaculture wasn’t. Are there levels of permaculture?

This morning I was musing about my experiences with my own family and gardening (permies prefer to be called farmers by the way – I’m not sure why since the “farmers” have been doing it wrong all along apparently). I come from a family of skilled gardeners. My mother attained Master Gardner status in her 70’s and I can vividly picture her hunched over her acid rain experiments as she studied. It always seemed wherever she lived, as soon as the gardens were done and she could expand no more, the for sale sign would go up. She died last year at 86 and I will note – the entire lawn of her and my older sister’s home was garden from edge to edge.

I remember my Mother early in the mornings, walking along her beds, her lips moving. Yes, she believed in talking to her plants as did her best friend Laura , whenever she came up from the States for a visit. My Father loved to garden too. When he became too ill to venture into the garden himself he was happy to dictate. I recall an afternoon, early spring, living in Kearney Ontario with my Mother and I working up the garden, snow blowing around our heads and my father wrapped up in a warm blanket on the deck bellowing at us. Yes – I know gardening.

I also know harvest. Our harvest was supplemented with bushel baskets of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers…did I mention tomatoes? Days and days of blanching and peeling tomatoes. Days and days of chopping, slicing, dicing. I hated it. I didn’t even like chili sauce. Who would eat 80 jars of chili sauce in a year?! But we were always out by the next harvest.

My brother and I decided to tap trees for maple syrup one year. There was a maple bush just down the road from our house and back in the day people didn’t get so uptight about trespassing. My brother was handy at that kind of stuff. Like the time he knew exactly what kind of silvery fish were choking the creek in masses the first year we moved to Beaverton, Ontario. Those are smelt, he said simply. Smelt? We moved from Toronto. What did he know of smelt? That led to years of smelt fishing parties with lots of libation and hours and hours of cleaning tiny little fish but I won’t go into that right now – back to the maple syrup.

So he decides we are going to tap the trees and he knows exactly what a tap is and what to do with it. Every day after school we would excitedly collect our sap and haul the buckets home. For days we forced our mother to boil sap. For weeks actually. It was her penance for the tomatoes. Our house was filled with a sweet sickly smell and a fine film of sticky goo for days on end. It took her forever to clean it from the walls and doors and furniture and in the end we bottled a liter of syrup – which, as it turned out, I was allergic to.

So my question again is what is permaculture? Well, by the time we moved away, there were no smelt left to fish for in Lake Simcoe or very few. That maple bush is now gone, replaced by homes and I don’t think they would take too kindly to kids drilling holes in their trees. It’s cheaper to buy 80 jars of chili sauce then the produce to make the equivalent and nobody really has the time for that anymore. So I guess that answers that question.

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A Goat’s Tale

ImageWhen I envision my food forest I imagine chickens poking their heads out from under leafy greens, perhaps a goat bleating excitedly when my car pulls in the drive, maybe even a large pig, whose only mission in life is to bask in the hot sun and churn some soil for me now and then. I don’t know how realistic this can be living in the center of a small town – even if it is a tree hugging town.

This past week I acquired a goat, as temporary caregiver. The poor fellow was rejected by his mother, as goats periodically do, and requires a regiment of bottle feeding and general care. This is not something that is totally out of the ballpark for me. Actually I have spent a lifetime of fostering, nurturing, saving, raising and releasing every stray that has crossed my path. And I have been doing it for as long as I can remember. The one legged seagull that hated my father, the Kestrel that frequented the bait shop next door to my home, the chameleon that hitched a ride nestled in my hair to school much to the embarrassment of my Mother who had to retrieve it and countless raccoons.

Raccoons were my favorite. I became renowned for fostering raccoons, for which the canine control was thankful. Actually I remember very few summers there wasn’t a raccoon on the scene, as my children grew up. From their perspective, I was a much better parent to the raccoons than I was to them. There may be some truth to this. I don’t ever remember yelling at my raccoons, I let them eat whatever they wanted and they could stay out to all hours of the night. I think I cuddled them a lot more too. My patience didn’t run nearly as thin and, well, I was just more maternal when it came to furry orphans. But I think the key was I knew it was temporary and my own kids weren’t – I had to pace myself. That’s what I told them anyway.

I thought of this when the goat arrived – one day old. And with a daughter still here I dreaded the judgment. The midnight bottle feedings I subjected them to, sharing their rooms with cages, climbing trees to rescue the little ones that hadn’t figured out how to get down. Even our household pets had to adjust – cat’s can’t eat birds, dogs can’t eat squirrels….everything in this house went against nature.

And now a goat. I do have a crate but I am not one for caging animals. Arthur is a precocious youngster who is very vocal and demonstrative when it comes to his needs. His idea of play is not nipping at heels and having a German Shepherds paw flatten him on a slippery floor. HIS idea of play is leaping. There is a compulsive quest to leap onto anything that is twice his height. Never mind that he fails nine times out of ten. Never mind that the object of his goal is animate or inanimate. Goats have a compulsive disorder. Leaping and food. He likes his jacket when he is forced outside and prefers the couch to his cage.

So do I want to wander in my food forest knowing that my goat, grazing in his small pen, secretly prefers my couch and a heater to his drafty barn? That the Himalayas would be much more to his liking than my gently sloping yard? Will I be able to resist bundling him in his pet parka in the winter and letting him forage through my edible oasis? Hold on to my visions of nurturing my garden, birds chirping cheerfully overhead as the goat and pig romp playfully behind me? I think not. I think best to leave the livestock to the harder of hearts and stick to traditional domesticated pets. Perhaps a couple of gnomes if I really feel I need some company out there….

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January 15, 2014 · 3:06 am

The Permaculture Precipice

By definition permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. In practice it encompasses so much more; lifestyle, politics, ideology, science, stereotypes, elitism, activism….

Where permaculture is headed will be greatly determined by the attitudes and egos of the individuals and organizations heading the charge. It can present an option for an alternative lifestyle that works with our environment and helps individuals rely more on themselves and to provide for their needs. Or it can become elitist and cliquish, driving away would-be back yard gardeners and individuals who DO care about our planet and our future but aren’t willing to live in a Yurt and make their own cheese to prove it.

Permaculture isn’t something you have to apply for. There aren’t prerequisites to becoming a permacultarlist. You don’t have to be a hippie, or a biologist. wealthy or poor. You don’t have to don clogs and start replacing the medicine in your cabinet with medicinal herbs. You don’t have to be well versed in nitrogen fixers or hugelkulture and you don’t HAVE to grow Comfrey.

“I grow Comfrey”

“Oh, you’re a permaculturalist”

You may however love to garden. You may want to take it to another level and create your own ecosystems and experiment with biodiversity. You may want to create an oasis of food bearing species in your own yard or on your rooftop or balcony or in your community. You may want to do it this way because where is the fun and benefit to gardeners to spend hours tilling and weeding and buying expensive seeds every year to provide themselves with an abundant harvest come fall and all the work that it entails.

Critics of permaculture say it is not possible to farm on a large scale and have the same output using the methods associated with polyculture. I believe there is some truth to that. Ecologically speaking, monoculture is destructive but it works like a factory. Commercial permaculture farming has many sound advantages but will it ever be truly competitive? It will be healthier. It will be more ecologically sound. But if our global population increases while our farm land decreases what do we do? Are GMO’s the only solution? Advocates of permaculture will tell you the output per acre is higher with polyculture. In its’ infancy this is hard to prove. And what is the cost comparison?

I believe the answer lay somewhere in between. Diversity, crop rotation, low till and no till practices are a step in the right direction. Reduction of consumption and waste will play a huge role in the next few decades. But in the meantime, permaculture is a good thing – on any scale. Why have a lawn when you can walk out your door and pick fruit from your trees, berries from your vines and fresh vegetables and herbs for dinner. Why have empty lots and bare parks in our communities when we can grow food forests with very little maintenance. Why not make the choice to green our communities and add to the health of ourselves and our environment when permaculture offers an easy sustainable way to do that.

Most of us will never live ‘off the grid’. Most of us will still have to go to work and pay our bills. But we will all have to change our lifestyle. It is only a matter of time. And if you’re willing to do that don’t let the naysayers or the gurus or the elitists’ dissuade or intimidate you. Ask questions, read, experiment and learn. We all have a right to put a seed in the ground and we all have the choice to do as much or little as we can.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”   Charles Darwin

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