Growing fruit in a cold climate

Apples frozen on an ice covered tree in the winter

While our gardens may be buried in snow–and after freezing rain yesterday, ice–many of us are still planning, dreaming and thinking about what we’ll be growing this coming season (see Sarah in Illinois’ plans that she shared last week).

I recently wrote an article for The Canadian Organic Grower, sharing some tips for growing fruit in cold climates.

As hard as the snow, cold, ice and wind can be on humans, the climate can be equally harsh for plants.

Despite the challenges, many Canadian gardeners want to grow and enjoy fresh tender fruit right in their own backyards. Fortunately, a growing number of nurseries, breeders and researchers are cultivating trees, vines and bushes that can thrive in Canada.

Frost covered raspberry cane

In our own garden, I am excited by the prospect of hopefully picking our first crop of grapes this year and seeing our blueberries and blackberries return. These fruits are all cold hardy varieties that I specifically selected to ensure they survive (and hopefully thrive) at our farm.

You can read the whole article here.

For my fellow cold climate dwellers, do you have any recommendations of particular varieties that you grow at your garden? Or tips to help plants survive cold weather? What climate and growing challenges do you face in your garden?

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Inspiration and a mantra for 2018

Happy New Year from Sarah in Illinois. I’m very happy to have Sarah continuing as a contributor this year, sharing news of what’s happening at her farm in Illinois. Like us here in Ontario, she’s starting off the year in a cold snap, but she’s looking ahead with optimism. She’s sharing some of her inspiration for 2018 today.

Happy New Year!

Our new year in Illinois has been great, but very, very cold. We have not made it above freezing temperatures in about two weeks. Last night we dropped to -6F (-21C) actual temperature. Keeping water available to the chickens has been my biggest struggle, even with a heated water bowl.

There is one more inconvenience that I am dealing with. Frozen eggs!

I gather them in the morning before work, but by the time I get home and there has been 10 hours of single digit temperatures, I usually find this:

However, relief is on the way. The forecast for the upcoming week shows that we are going to rise above freezing every day and I am looking forward to it.

I am also looking forward to the upcoming year. A new year always feels like a blank slate. For us, 2017 had some good points but a lot of struggles and the promise of a fresh new start is invigorating.

If you remember my posts last year or the year before I used the website My One Word to find an inspirational word for the year.

I decided this year that I want to use a phrase as a sort of mantra for my upcoming year and I wrote it in the front of my new planner.

I am not sure where this phrase originated. I found a version attributed to Roy T. Bennett in The Light in the Heart: “Do what is right, not what is easy nor what is popular.”

I found this quote by David Cottrell: “Doing the right thing isn’t always easy – in fact, sometimes it’s real hard – but just remember that doing the right thing is always right.”

And if you are a fan of Harry Potter then I am sure you remember Albus Dumbledore saying, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

No matter who first said it, I think it can be applied to every aspect of my life from what I choose to eat, to getting chores done around the house and barn.

So what about you? Do you have a word or a mantra to start your new year? Or do you write out resolutions? Do you feel like I do and think of the new year as a clean, blank slate?

This is a great mantra for the year, Sarah. I like how it can apply to big things as well as the little everyday tasks. I’m doing a word of the year for the first time this year, and I’ll be sharing my choice in an upcoming post.

I’m curious to here how others are starting the new year. Leave a comment and let us know your resolutions or words or mantras.

How to encourage egg laying in the winter

Back in December, Sarah in Illinois shared some of the lessons she’s learned since adding laying chickens to her farm. In the post, she mentioned mentioned that their egg production had declined as winter set in. She had a few ideas to encourage more laying, and today she’s back to share what happened.

If you remember my post a couple months ago, I gave an update on the chickens and mentioned that their egg production had declined.

I thought that it was either from lack of daylight or cooler temperatures. I was willing to try to add some artificial daylight, but that I was not going to risk a barn fire by adding heat.

I am happy to report adding some light did the trick.

I went to the local home improvement store and purchased a light socket with metal shade. All you do is add a bulb and plug it in.

I took it a few steps further.

First, I chose an LED bulb. I am serious when I say that a barn fire is one of my worst fears, and I was going to take no chances in using a bulb that would get hot.

An LED did the trick. It produces almost no heat at all. I can rest my hand on the metal shield while it is on and there is no chance of me, or the chickens, getting burned.

As you can imagine with a traditional bulb there is no way I would be able to touch the shield, it would burn me instantly.

The second thing I did was to secure the fixture.

It came with a clamp to attach it where you need light. There is a good chance that it wouldn’t move, but I wanted to make sure it did not fall and rest in the straw in the bottom of the coop. So I ran a screw into the clamp after I had it where I wanted it.

No crazy chicken antics will cause the lamp to fall.

My final step was to add a timer. I have it set to come on every morning from 6 to 7 am and again from 4 to 8 pm.

After I had all of this in place I waited.

After about a week I found 2 eggs in the box.

And then a few days later I started getting 3 eggs a day.

I even had a bonus day yesterday where all 4 chickens laid an egg.

I can say that this project was a complete success, and I have no fear of burning our barn down.

I also have progress to report on my project goals that I listed in my last post.

One of my projects is to make over my Grandma’s Saint Francis statue.

I started by scraping off all loose paint. I did not intend to remove all the paint, only the paint that was loose and came off easily.

For the most part the concrete is in good shape but it has broken off of the base.

I am sure there are products meant for this type of project, but I chose to use what we had sitting around. We had a partial bag of thin-set mortar that we had used to install tile in our house. It sets up extremely hard, so I thought that once it is painted, it may work just fine.

I really don’t know about the longevity for this use, but I decided that it was worth a shot. I mixed some water and made it thick enough that I could apply it with a putty knife.

I knew that I wanted to add a couple layers instead of one thick layer so I purposely left the first layer bumpy instead of smooth so that the second layer will have something to attach to. I waited for it to dry and hoped that it would work.

24 hours after I added the thin-set to the statue, I started thinking that it is not going to work. I think the thin-set is too crumbly and will not hold up long term.

But that’s okay. I tried it, and I will try something else and report back how it goes.

Way to give things a try, Sarah. I’m glad that the chickens’ light worked so well. It’s great that you’re able to get fresh eggs again. I would miss those! Hopefully you’re able to find something that works for your Grandma’s statue too. 

A walk by the creek

Creek flowing over rocks

Care to join me on an evening walk along the creek?

We’ll start at the front of the property where water from farms to the north of us drains onto our land. It flows along the border of the front field, cuts under the driveway and then picks up another stream. From here it snakes along the perimeter of the corner field following the edge of our pine forest.

Creek

Partway along, we come to an old bridge that once connected the field to the forest. I discovered this bridge on one of my first rambles in the early months of owning the farm. I remember how excited I was, although I have yet to attempt to cross the bridge.

Dilapidated bridge

Some day, we may repair the bridge and establish some pathways through the forest.

Dilapidated bridge

As we near the mouth of the pond, the creek drops, swirling under trees, around boulders and over rocks.

Creek flowing over rocks

Unusual weather for January in Canada–five degrees and day after day of rain this week–has the water high and flowing fast, yet ice still coats the grass along the shore.

 

Fast flowing water in the creek

We end our ramble at the pond where the ice is melting in this January thaw.

Pond during a January thaw

Just one small problem, we’re on the wrong side of the creek and the bridge is out. Be careful getting home. 🙂

Have a great weekend everyone. May I suggest you go for a ramble?

Breakfast with the birds

Chicadees at the birdfeeder

Most days, my morning starts pretty early. Too early for the sun and too early for the birds.

Which is a shame, because our birdfeeder is perfectly positioned right outside the dining room window, and I love watching the birds as I’m having my breakfast.

Over the holidays, my days started a little later and I was able to share my breakfast with a few feathered folk.

Blue jay at the birdfeeder

Cardinal at the birdfeeder

Woodpecker at the birdfeeder

The woodpecker (above) was the top of the pecking order until the dove (below) came along. Despite their reputation, this guy is not at all peaceful. He wants all the seeds for himself.

Dove at the birdfeeder

I highly recommend this simple style of birdfeeder. The birds seem to really like it, and it’s easy to fill and clean. I posted plans way back when I first made it. You can download them here.

What birds do you see at your house? Do you have a birdfeeder?

That’s a wrap

If you’re looking for Christmas presents, fancy paper and pretty ribbons, you’ve come to the wrong place.

I did do some wrapping this weekend, but it was in the garden (yes, I’m still working in the garden).

I have wrapped our grape vines in burlap. I have no idea if this is the right thing to do or not, but, as I’ve said before, gardening is an experiment.

Wrapping grape vines in burlap

The grapes are brand new and they’re a wee bit exposed on the outer edge of the garden where it meets the field. I felt like a bit of additional protection wouldn’t hurt, and I had some burlap lying around, so a couple of weekends ago, I stapled a length of fabric to the fence.

Wrapping grape vines in burlap

Of course, I ran out and by the time I picked up more burlap, we’d had snow. A lot of snow–at least for us and for this time of year.

Wrapping grape vines in burlap

Since I could no longer open the garden gate–unless I wanted to shovel and I had been shoveling for a couple of hours by the time I had the brainwave to finish the garden–I tossed the burlap, the stapler and the scissors over the fence, and then climbed the fence myself. In case you’re wondering, climbing a fence in bulky snow pants and boots is not the easiest. But the snow makes a soft landing.

I was grateful we have a wood fence, because it was easy to just staple the burlap right to the wood. Where the bottom of the fence was buried in snow, I packed the snow against the fabric to hold it in place.

Wrapping grape vines in burlap

Then I ever so gracefully climbed out of the garden again.

This officially wraps up work on the garden for this year. (And no, I’m not sorry for the pun. That was completely on purpose.)

Winter predictions

“A Canadian is someone who worries about winter before summer is even over,” a senior climatologist at Environment Canada said earlier this fall (source). Apparently, that definition extends to Illinois as well. When you live in a place like Canada or Illinois where winter can be a big deal, you try to anticipate what kind of season we’re going to have. Sarah in Illinois is sharing some of her predictions for the upcoming winter.

As the temperatures start falling, our thoughts are turning towards winter and more importantly what kind of weather we are going to have.

Snow? Wind? Or even worse, ice?

Of course there is no way to know for sure. Even the best meteorologists are just making scientific-based guesses. But it feels good to think maybe we can plan ahead, even just a little bit. We do look at our local weatherman’s winter forecast, but we also like to base our predictions off of old wives’ tales. Here are a few that we use at our house.

Persimmons

My brother has a persimmon tree. When the fruit starts falling to the ground we gather a few and take the seeds out. The seeds are very slimy and you have to wipe them off really well because the next step is a little dangerous. We take a very sharp knife or even a razor blade and slice the seed in half. Inside is the little white kernel. If you look closely it will resemble one of three shapes: a spoon, a fork or a knife.

If the shape is a spoon, then you should expect heavy wet snow. If it is the shape of a fork you should expect a milder winter, and if it is in the shape of a knife you can expect lots of sharp wind that cuts right through you. We cut some open at my brother’s house and they looked like spoons to us.

We cut some open when we got home, and it seemed like the knife scraped the kernel away and it was hard to read. But if we really looked hard we thought they looked like spoons. So by that we should prepare for lots of snow.

(In my next post I will share what I did with all of those persimmons.)

Woolly Worms

Another prediction that we have used since we were little is the color of the woolly worms. Woolly worms are usually striped black then brown then black. The more proportion of the worm that is black means the harsher the winter will be. We have seen several different woolly worms so far this fall. I have seen an all light brown woolly worm, and several with more black, then brown, then black but by far we have seen the most all black.

These seem to be crawling everywhere. If you do an internet search you will see some “professionals” that say these are not the worms you use to make your predictions. They say this is a different variety of woolly worm and it doesn’t count. So I guess you can make your own decision on what that prediction means. But to us it means be prepared for snow.

Squirrel Nests

Steve’s favorite predictor has to do with the squirrel nests in the trees. He says that the larger the nest, the colder the winter. I’ll be honest before I met Steve, I never paid attention to the squirrels even made nests in the trees, but now I am always on the lookout.

This prediction is yet to be determined since there are still way too many leaves on the trees and we can’t even see any nests. But I know we will start noticing them in the next few weeks and we will have to see what the squirrels predict.

I am curious, what other old wives’ tales are out there? Do you use anything in nature to predict your winter weather? Have you heard of the methods that we use? What does the winter forecast look like in your area?

So far it sounds like the prediction for Illinois is snow. Honestly, I like a snowy winter. I could do without some of the frigid temperatures we’ve had over the past few years. I’ve heard of the woolly bear (worm) method before, but never persimmons. You have me curious how you used all of those fruits.

Thisclose to a breakthrough

I’ve had this whole “break-on-through” post that I’ve been planning. You see, all winter I’ve been working my way through our woodpile. It’s three rows wide, and I’ve been slowly using up the back two rows. (Matt, the official woodcutter in our relationship, would argue it’s not been slow enough).

Loading firewood into the washtub

Well, I was almost at the end. I had snapped some pictures showing how far I’d come, anticipating the day when I would break through.

Woodpile

Then I would take my final pictures and write a blog post where I talk about how happy I am that we have a fireplace, how nice it’s been to have fires all winter, how it’s almost the end of winter and how neat it is that this breakthrough moment coincides with almost the end of fire season, how we (Matt) will have to restock our firewood in anticipation of next winter.

I had it all worked out in my mind.

But then something happened. Cave in.

Collapsed woodpile

There will be no breakthrough.

There will be restacking, more burning (sorry, Matt). And instead you get this blog post, mourning what could have been, rather than triumphantly celebrating a milestone.

Okay, maybe milestone isn’t the best descriptor, but I’d worked it all out, people!

I blame the turkey.

Her footprints are all around that woodpile.

Turkey tracks around the woodpile

El Niño

Are you having a crazy winter where you are? We’ve been through El Niños before, but this year is something else.

Temperatures have mostly hovered right around zero or above. It took nearly half the winter before we had snow of any significance.

Sun rising over snow covered farm

But it only lasted a little while before the temperatures shot up again and everything melted. (Note how even the grass has maintained its green).

Farm after snowmelt

Every so often, temperatures drop back into the polar vortex territory that we experienced for the previous two winters. But then they invariably rise again.

Thermometer showing -20

The wildlife is not reacting well to the fluctuations.

We had an extra cat take refuge in the barn. And snakes are coming out of their dens only to freeze in the snow.

Dead snake in the snow

On behalf of the local wildlife, Ralph came out of the barn to investigate where winter went.

“No, I don’t believe I see any snow on this ground here.”

Ralph looking for snow

Not trusting his sister’s bad eye, Bax came to help her look.

“Nope, I do not see any snow either… And I think I’m sitting in mud.” (He was.)

Ralph and Baxter looking for snow

A month from today we will officially be into spring. Do you think we’re going to have a winter between now and then?

What’s winter been like where you are? Are you seeing any unusual wildlife behaviours? Anyone want to join Ralph’s and Baxter’s search party?