Homemade Fireweed Tea (DIY “real” tea!)

IMG_1237

Tea is made with the leaves, so the lovely flowers are left for pollinators ❤ 

I’ve spent most of my free time this spring and summer learning about the different native plants we have in our area and what can be done with them. I’ve tried making a few herbal teas but they always felt like they were missing some key ingredient or a foundation or something. Well, I think I finally found it!

I learned how to make tea which is exactly as tasty and satisfying as “real” tea (meaning Camellia sinensis; the tea people generally refer to when they just say “tea”). It is naturally caffeine-free. It has an interesting history, and I have read a lot about its health benefits but won’t go into all that now because let’s be honest, I’d just google it and paraphrase other articles. What I want to write about is how my own experience making it went, and my honest opinion after tasting it. (If you do want that more in depth info, this is a good place to start, and that’s where I got the preparation instructions too.)

I’m very sensitive when it comes to some things like sound and touch, but not when it comes to taste. For whatever reason, I’m not one of those people who really appreciates “floral and fruity notes” or “earthy, nutty” flavours. I’ve always understood the “earthy, nutty” description to mean “boring”. Maybe this is why I’m not that into cooking. Anyway, if I’m going to enjoy a food or drink, it needs to be obviously tasty, not with such a subtle flavour that I need to concentrate to decide whether or not it tastes good. Sorry foodies 🙂

Anyway, that is my way of saying you should seriously try this tea! I first tried fireweed tea with just dried leaves, and I felt like I might as well just brew up a cup of grass. I wanted to like it, but I didn’t. I then read about this oxidation process which removes the grass taste and was immediately interested.

It was AWESOME.

It didn’t taste like grass. It didn’t taste “green” at all. It was bold, rich, it had the same “mouth feel” as tea and left a nice aftertaste. I might even say it was “complex”. Just look at the words I’m using.

Fireweed is a common plant here, and harvesting it does minimal damage to the plant itself, and from what I can tell it has little or no impact on the ecosystem it grows in, depending on your harvesting technique. If you have this stuff around you, this can be a truly, genuinely eco-friendly way to drink tea.

At worst, there could be some soil compaction from me trampling through the patch, and some plants will inevitably be stepped on along the way, but that’s it. I leave the flowers alone. I gently remove leaves from only the top section of the stalk, so the plant can just seal up those wounds and carry on. As long as it doesn’t pick up an infection of some kind, it should be completely fine. I noticed that there were usually some tiny little mini-leaves just above the nodes of the leaves I harvested, so most likely the plant will simply grow those out and replace the leaves I took in a couple of days. I noticed harvesting nettles in spring that the plants would often end up being larger and more robust a few days after I harvested them. That could be the case here too, with careful and conscious harvesting.

IMG_1224 2.JPG

Fireweed plants just beginning to show off their beautiful pink flowers.

We have several patches of fireweed around our property, and I have seen lots of it along roadsides too, although that isn’t a great place to harvest them (roads are a significant source of dust and pollution that lands on or is absorbed by the plants near them). We obviously don’t spray poison on our land, so there is no concern here about pesticides or herbicides. And, since this is a native plant the leaves are typically healthy and in good condition, being well adapted to the particular challenges of this ecosystem. Fireweed thrives without any need for human intervention.

Below is a picture showing how I harvest a single leaf, grasping the base and just gently turning the petiole (leaf stalk) downwards towards the stem. It snaps off very easily with minimal harm to the stem. Occasionally a little strip of the stem peels off with it but I try to minimize that. There is a quicker method of harvesting the leaves which is to wrap your hand around the stem and just slide it downwards. The leaves break off easily so you can strip off a handful at once, but I find that method a bit fumbly and can be more damaging to the leaves, plus you have a greater chance of accidentally picking up leaves with damage or insects on them. I prefer the one at a time method, but I do alternate between them. I’m still learning 🙂

IMG_1235.JPG

If you want to try this, one useful key to identifying fireweed is to look carefully at the leaf veins. In the picture below, pay attention to the outer edge of the leaf, there is a vein that runs parallel, leaving a little space or border zone around the edge. The main veins running across from the center appear to connect to each other and loop around to create a border instead of running all the way to the edge of the leaf.

IMG_1227.JPG

It is a very striking and beautiful plant, and if you live in an area where it grows wild you’ve probably noticed it before. It’s hard to miss. It is widespread across the northern hemisphere, and it particularly likes disturbed areas, especially places that have been devastated by forest fires or logging. Fireweed is a pioneer and a natural healer; it adds beauty and the promise of a bright future after traumatic loss.

The first step after harvesting leaves is to let them wilt in the sun or a warm place for a while. When the wilted leaves are ready, they will bend in half without snapping, and you can roll them easily between your palms without crushing them and having little fragments break off in your hands.

IMG_1248.JPG

Then, the leaves are rolled up between the palms to bruise them and initiate the process of oxidation, which is what eliminates that grassy taste in the tea.

I used the crock pot (unplugged) as a container for the leaves to ferment. I read that a ceramic bowl with a lid is ideal because it is an aerobic process, but it’s good to cover it so bugs don’t get into it. I noticed a fragrance already just a few hours later. It was a bit pungent and I was not optimistic about it at first. I continued anyway, checking on and shaking up the leaves now and then. The pungent smell went away by the end of the first day, and I started to notice a nicer tea-like scent.

I did a small batch at first to test it out. Here is a shot of the rolled leaves in the crock pot:

IMG_1215.JPG

I forgot to write down the time when I put them in to ferment, but after about 48 hours I brewed up a small cup to test it, and I thought it was delicious so I put the leaves into the dehydrator to stop fermentation.

The leaves dried quickly, and when they were brittle I turned off the dehydrator, let the leaves cool to room temperature and then stored them in a glass jar. The instructions said to let the tea cure for 2-4 months before using it, but I enjoyed the taste right away so I guess it will just get better and better. I harvested a much larger batch this morning and plan to do more before the season ends so I have a good stash of it for wintertime. It actually works out nicely that it needs to cure, because I don’t really drink much tea in summer so it will probably just sit there and cure for the rest of the summer anyway until things start to cool off outside again.

IMG_1221.JPG

The small test batch, stored in a glass jar to cure.

I’m just so excited to finally have the ability to make a delicious tea from something that grows in our yard rather than being imported from another continent. It is so prolific in the wild it doesn’t require cultivation or human intervention, and all it costs is a bit of time. This stuff is a win on so many levels 🙂

I’m also very excited to try using this as a base for different herbal tea blends. As an experiment I added some dried meadowsweet flowers and did a taste test, and it was lovely. I did another test with some dried red clover and that was also very nice. I have finally found the key ingredient that my previous attempts at herbal teas were missing, so now I feel optimistic that I’ll be able to make all kinds of interesting herbal tea blends that are rich and flavourful.

IMG_1217

Fireweed and Meadowsweet tea

If you have fireweed growing near you, and you can safely harvest it without worrying about pollution, pesticides, or pissing someone off, I highly recommend trying it!

Just make sure you are certain about identification before you gather anything from the wild, and always harvest consciously with respect and gratitude ❤

Advertisements

Our first sick hen

We hoped it would be a long time before we had to deal with something like this. Our flock is only 16 weeks old now, so we were surprised to discover that we had a serious health problem already.

I have read that chickens will kill a sick or injured bird to protect the rest of the flock, so I first started to suspect something when I saw two or three birds pulling on poor Bronze from different directions. Later, she was chased over the electric fence, and didn’t return to the coop at bedtime that night. We tried bringing her into the house to protect her, but she was upset and kept banging her head trying to escape the smaller enclosure so we put her back in the coop, unsure what to do.

The next morning she stayed in the coop when everyone else went out, so I put the others out in the electric fence area and let her stay in the coop with access to the run. I checked on her frequently during the day, and she just stood there with her head hunched back into her feathers, looking very unhappy. I still didn’t know what to do.

We are new to chickens, and like new parents we kept asking, at what point do we worry? Are we overreacting? Not worrying enough?

It wasn’t until she actually came over and leaned on me that I realized we had to do something. Our chickens weren’t handled much in their earliest days, so they aren’t that friendly. Having one approach me and actually initiate physical contact like that, on top of everything else, was a definite cause for alarm.

The internet is absolutely packed with backyard chicken keepers offering advice, solutions, do’s and don’ts. One person says one thing and another says the exact opposite. It’s overwhelming.

If your dog gets sick, you take it to the vet and the vet takes responsibility for figuring out what’s wrong and how to best handle it. If your chicken gets sick, you have to deal with it yourself. Maybe some people take their chickens to the vet but we don’t. I don’t know if our vet would even see a chicken. (We can get into a debate on “speciesism” another day.)

So we took Bronze in the house and gave her a calm, comfortable environment away from the cruel beaks of her siblings to see if the situation would improve at all while we researched some more. We didn’t want to start just trying stuff in case we made things worse, or caused her more pain without any benefit. She watched an episode of Orange is the New Black with us and fell asleep on my arm, making very sweet little “tut tut tut” noises. It was heartbreaking. I put her in the old brooder box and she slept peacefully for the night.

IMG_0587The next day the situation had not improved, she seemed more lethargic and even quieter than before. We realized that she was clearly suffering and it wasn’t going to resolve itself.

I learned that chickens have a compartmentalized digestive system that compensates for not having teeth. Food is first stored in the crop, then travels further to be ground up for digestion. I keep reading that it’s a very efficient digestive system, but it doesn’t seem like the most brilliant layout, since the food needs to exit the crop through a small opening before it’s broken into smaller pieces, which means if the bird eats something like a large leaf, a plastic toy, or long blade of grass, it can easily cause a blockage. If the crop is blocked, food will go in, but won’t go further towards digestion. The bird will feel full and lose the desire to eat, while the food in the crop begins to decay.

I learned that impacted crop can be fixed surgically by cutting into the crop and simply pulling out the blockage, but this was definitely not an option for us. We would likely have done much more harm than good trying something like that ourselves.

After watching some helpful videos I gently massaged Bronze’s crop, to see if I could work out any blockage.  Her mouth starting to move as if she was swallowing something, so I tipped her forward and a whole bunch of yucky goop came out. It definitely had a yeasty smell, which my research told me meant that she probably had “sour crop” and the blocked up food was fermenting.

I spent the next day checking on her and alternating between emptying her crop and force feeding (she was still refusing food) yogurt mixed with water, which we hoped would help fight the yeast and balance her crop again. After vomiting however, her crop always swelled up almost immediately with gas and fluid. I thought the crop was empty after her vomiting, but couldn’t understand why it kept swelling up again. She only got worse and worse through the day, and by the end of that day it seemed like she had given up, and there wasn’t any more we could do for her. We couldn’t let her suffer anymore.

After putting her to rest, we cut open her crop to find out what was really going on and found a wad of wood shavings and leaves still in there. I had been doing my best to help clear it out, but this stuff was packed in very tightly and I don’t think we could have removed it without surgery. I made sure to feel the body after I could see that the crop was actually empty, so if we have to deal with this again in the future I’ll be much more confident about whether or not the crop is still impacted and how it feels when the blockage is actually cleared.

I see the other chickens eating wood shavings and long grass all the time and we haven’t seen any other signs of trouble, so it’s possible that Bronze was just unlucky, or perhaps her crop didn’t work right and she would have continued having problems again and again if she did recover, or maybe she ate a whole lot at once and it clumped up in just the wrong way. Whatever the reason, I hope this never happens again but I also see how easily it can happen, and I know there isn’t much we can do to prevent it.

Experience can be a cruel, but very effective teacher. We had to face not only the stress of trying to cure Bronze, but also to decide at what point it was time to give up hope, end her suffering, and to actually euthanize her ourselves. That part was as awful as we expected it to be, but we knew from the beginning that this is part of keeping chickens and had braced ourselves for it the best that we could. It was difficult and emotional, but despite this harsh reality check we are moving forward without feeling any less motivated or enthusiastic about keeping chickens. We know that we did the best we could and feel confident that we did the right thing. We learned so much from this ordeal that we feel we have “leveled up” significantly as chicken keepers. I would still recommend keeping chickens to everyone who has the capacity to do so. The more backyard chickens there are, the less demand there will be for factory farmed chicken and eggs, and that is a win for chickens, people, and the environment ❤

 

 

 

 

Feels like summer!

Spring is well underway now, although it feels more like summer, and it has been exactly as incredible as I dreamed about all winter long. When everything was white, it was so hard to picture green, but now that it’s all green we can’t imagine the ice and snow anymore, and we like it much better this way! Everything exploded into flowers and green all at once, and the weather has been warmer and sunnier than I’ve experienced in all the time I’ve been in Norway. I have sunburns on top of sunburns, on top of layers of scratches and bruises from all the exploring, planting, dragging, digging, etc as we get things going here. It feels great to be so active again. I think I might even be growing some muscles!

IMG_0204

Phoebe was born in late November last year, so she has only experienced cold and snow up to this point, and she absolutely loves this warm, sunny new world. She loves splashing in the stream on hot days and racing around the yard. She follows me around when I forage for wild edibles and tend to the garden, and she is learning to lay calmly next to me while I work instead of stamping all over the gardens. I’m almost always wearing a pouch filled with kibble and other goodies because every day is filled with “teaching moments” for a curious puppy.

The trail camera has been busy up in the forest keeping an eye on some of the larger wild creatures we share the land with.

The abundance and diversity of wildlife here is truly amazing. It seems like almost every time I see an insect it’s one I haven’t seen before. There doesn’t seem to be an overabundance of any one species; it truly feels like a well balanced ecosystem. We have plenty of small predators like spiders, lizards, and frogs roaming the gardens already, along with bees, butterflies, and countless other pollinators. The days are now so long that there are birds singing pretty much around the clock. In the back near the forest edge there are some small ponds and marshy areas that are teeming with tadpoles.

We keep some areas around the house mowed, but we generally try to tread lightly and treat most of the property as a sanctuary for nature. This helps maintain that great abundance and diversity of insects, and it means that our gardens are not the only source of food and shelter in a desert of clipped grass. Diverse plant life provides the foundation for a healthy and robust ecosystem.

IMG_0232

The stinging nettles pictured below are near the edge of our veggie garden. Nettles are known to host a great deal of beneficial insects. These ones are currently nursing some caterpillars which will develop into butterflies that will probably end up pollinating some of our garden crops.

Not only do “weeds” provide food and shelter for insect life, but many of these plants are useful to us too. Stinging nettle is considered a nasty weed by most people, but I can’t get enough of it. I’ve seriously considered asking the neighbours if I could harvest some of theirs. Despite the painful sting, it is a highly nutritious early spring food (it tastes like spinach), it makes a nice herbal tea, it has medicinal uses, it attracts beneficial insects, it is used in biodynamic preparations for the garden and can be made into a surprisingly good hair rinse among many other things. You can read more about nettles here, if you’re curious.

We’ve also been experimenting with some other wild foods like fried dandelions. Those were actually better than I expected. I started nibbling on them and demolished half the batch before they even made it to the dinner table.. oops.. but Tux just couldn’t quite get past the idea of eating dandelions so he wasn’t super into it. He’s been very open minded with all this experimenting though, which makes it a lot more fun. I normally hate cooking, but being able to use ingredients we harvested ourselves changes the whole experience completely.

img_0377

Cheerful spring salad. A mix of foraged and store bought greens, wildflowers, and the first radishes from the garden 🙂

I think I could write an entire post dedicated just to our foraging experiments, or even stinging nettles alone since I’ve focused a lot on those this spring. I know there is loads more out there to discover, but this one is just so incredibly versatile! Next year maybe I’ll try getting obsessed with a different plant. Here are some pictures of the nettle harvest and a few of the different things I’ve been doing with them:

Mixed “weeds” pulled out of the gardens are also a great salad for the chickens, which they appreciate since they have already gobbled up every microscopic bit of green that was inside their run.

Here are some pictures to give an overview of the main garden beds that we have put down so far. Everything has been planted out now except tomatoes, which I’m not entirely sure where to place or how to support yet. I’ve done a lot of research on companion planting and try to place things according to which plants will cooperate with each other. Tomatoes and potatoes, which are both in the nightshade family, seem to be the fussiest from what I’ve read, but we have plenty of space so it shouldn’t be an issue anyway.

Along the south wall of the house we have these stone raised beds which I thought would make a nice place for a herb and salad garden. The bottom step has two rows of “baby leaf” lettuce and a row of radishes which will be replaced by another row of lettuce when the radishes are done. The second step up has a mix of edible flowers. In the steps above that I’ve planted thyme, oregano, parsley, borage, lemon balm, basil, and mint. There are a few strawberry plants next to the borage because I read that they grow nicely together and I love experimenting with plant partners.

IMG_0286

Below the stone “steps” is a small hill leading down to the plum tree and berry bushes. I plan to fill this hill with different herbs and useful ornamentals, focusing on perennials like echinacea. I plan to expand and develop this herb garden over time. I’m very interested in making herbal products like finishing salts, flavour mixes, teas, oils, and perhaps even some bath products. This will also be a good place for plants like comfrey that spread aggressively by roots, because it is bordered by mowed lawn and the driveway, so plants like this won’t get a chance to invade the wild meadows and forest around us.

IMG_0313

Underneath the row cover in the picture above is a patch of strawberries that were a gift from our lovely neighbours. The row cover is there to shelter the strawberries from the harsh sun while they get established in their new home.

We have half of a rhubarb plant, which we obtained from a friend who lives in an area that hasn’t been affected by the horrific brown slug invasion either, and was kind enough to dig up part of her rhubarb to plant into our garden. It seems to have transplanted well and is growing rapidly.

IMG_0296

All of our veggie and herb beds were established on top of the existing ground using sheet mulch instead of tilling. We laid down wet cardboard, covered it with a layer of well aged, composted horse manure, and topped it with a thick mulch of hay which we got from a friend who couldn’t use it to feed his cows (the wrapping had broken open and the bale had become damp). To plant, I just make an opening in the mulch and plant seeds or seedlings into the composted horse manure. As the young plants mature the cardboard and lawn below will be consumed by earthworms and other decomposers, opening up the soil below. With this technique, the earthworms, insects, and other soil life are responsible for turning and aerating the soil while also providing nutrients for the plants and adding organic matter, which helps with soil structure, water retention, and drainage. It’s basically on-the-spot vermicomposting that aims to mimic the process in nature. The mulch provides food and shelter for soil creatures, and it acts as insulation; keeping the soil at a comfortable temperature and moisture level. It should be very little work to maintain these gardens once they are established. The soil in our gardens should become deeper, richer, and healthier over time, rather than depleted and lifeless. It will require no additional inputs of fertilizers or soil amendments other than topping up the mulch and adding some compost each year to help replace the nutrients we remove when we harvest.

IMG_0333

Earthworms are thriving in the rich compost between the cardboard and mulch layers

So far the veggies we have planted in these beds are: rainbow carrots (interplanted with radishes), leeks, swiss chard, mixed varieties of kale, lettuce, bush beans, striped beets, spaghetti squash, some kind of green pumpkin, and chives. I might be forgetting something somewhere but I think that’s everything in these beds at the moment.

Below is an example of companion planting at work:

IMG_0327

I planted carrot and radish seeds together.  The radish pictured is pretty much ready to harvest, just as the carrot seedling next to it is starting to want that space. The two plants have occupied the same place in the garden at the same time without competing with each other, and the radishes have provided some shelter and protection for the fragile carrot seedlings in their earliest days.

img_0376

The very first veggies harvested from our garden!

The peas are off to a good start and should begin climbing up the trellis strings any day now. I arranged this bed so that the lettuces will receive full sun in the early part of the day but later on, once the peas are climbing the trellis, they will be sheltered from the more intense afternoon sun. That should extend the time we can use the mature lettuces before they bolt (go to seed).

I put together a super simple cucumber/squash trellis in the orchard garden, using a couple of small forked logs and a large wire grid that I found on the wall of the barn. There is space under the trellis, so I planted some lettuce here too. I also interplanted some marigolds with the cucumbers and squashes, to try and deter hungry insects that might want to snack on them.

Here I’ve planted a few rows of potatoes, again using a no-till sheet mulch technique. The plan is to add more mulch as the potatoes start to grow, so while the roots are growing downwards, the potatoes themselves will develop up in the hay. Instead of digging them up, we just have to pull off the mulch, which should mean the potatoes will come out clean and with a nice round shape. By next year most of the mulch we added will be broken down and this bed will be ready for a new plot of veggies.

IMG_0317

The plum and cherry trees are now finished blooming, and the berry bushes look amazing after their hard pruning this winter. They were neglected for a few years before we moved here, and there was a lot of heavy old growth on them. They were much too dense and heavy, which leaves them at risk for breakage and disease. I was a bit scared after cutting so much off of them, but they do seem rejuvenated and quite happy now. From what I can see we will be drowning in fruit this summer.

IMG_0315

 

 

IMG_0314

Blackcurrant bushes are looking fresh and healthy after a severe winter pruning.

The chickens are enjoying more time outside now that their run is completely enclosed and secure. The next step is to set them up with mobile electric netting  so they can have access to fresh pastures and help us keep the grass trimmed.

We installed a couple of perches and sectioned off a dust bath area for them, and they get deliveries of fresh green “weeds” from the garden every day, plus occasional treats from the kitchen.

IMG_0306 The run includes a chicken door to the outside, which we plan to use when we (somehow) herd them back and forth between the coop and the mobile fence.

IMG_0303

I can’t say for sure but I think they are happy birds 🙂

FullSizeRender 6

The Chicken Cam is still going, by the way! We now have two cameras up, one inside and one outside. If you’re on a computer you’ll find a button next to the settings button at the bottom of the video that lets you switch cameras, but for some reason YouTube doesn’t seem to offer that option on phones or tablets at this point.

There is audio on the inside camera only. You can often hear two of the roosters taking turns crowing!

Coop camera:

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 09.54.16.png

Outdoor camera:

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 09.48.42.png

So now that we are getting used to having nice weather and being outside, hopefully I’ll be able to get back into making art again. It was impossible to sit inside in front of the computer when the weather first started to turn nice and there was so much to do in the gardens, but now that we have had warm weather for a few weeks and the big rush of starting the gardens is over, I think I will finally be able to start drawing again.

If you’d like to see more frequent updates about the gardens, animals and life in general at Trollgården, you can follow me on Instagram 🙂

Hope you’re enjoying spring and early summer as much as we are!

 

Moving day for the chickens!

The chickens are in the coop! What a relief for all of us. They were getting much too crowded in their brooder box, and it was a lot of work staying on top of all that poop. The coop is much bigger, so it won’t have to be cleaned nearly as often as the brooder, especially once they are spending most of their time outside. We’re also able to position the food and water dispensers farther apart, and hang them up a little higher so they are both staying much cleaner. Chickens are very busy, constantly running and flapping around, stirring things up. When I see how active and curious these guys are I can’t help but think about factory farmed chickens in cramped cages with nothing to do, how miserable that must be for them.

IMG_9881

Getting ready for the big move!

It’s so great to watch them in their new house. They are so much happier now, with space to do all their running around and squabbling with each other. They have enough room to play “keep away” with treats now too, instead of crashing into the walls. We blocked off the nest boxes for now so that they don’t establish a habit of sleeping in them. We’ll open that area up later on when they are ready to start laying. We also aren’t letting them play outside just yet because we want them to become comfortable and establish the coop as their home so it’ll be easier to keep a routine of closing them up at night later on. I tossed in a few chunks of grass that I dug up from between the stone walls to give them something to “forage” indoors. They love picking off the greens and digging through the roots for little bugs and grit. Also, they finally have a nice sandbox for a dust bath now, which they started using right away.

The webcam is installed in the coop already, so we (and you) can check in on the 24/7 livestream anytime (find that here or click the picture below) 🙂

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 08.27.57.png

We decided to use heat lamps at least for now, because it’s still quite cold out and I think they are still too young to handle that. The coop isn’t insulated, so without heat it’s pretty much the same temperature as the outside air.

We woke up to this the day after we moved them:

IMG_9896.JPG

I was playing on the grass in the sun with the dog the day before that! It’s snowing again as I write this… and it’s almost May already. However, the trees and bushes are really taking forever to leaf out, and I haven’t seen nettles yet. Nature knows best. I have already wasted some carrot and radish seeds out in the garden by planting much too early. I couldn’t help it. It’s hard not to be overly eager when it’s our first year here and spring seems to be moving in ultra slow motion. I’m so envious when I read blogs and see posts on instagram and everyone is talking about all their spring gardening and posting flowers, meanwhile I’m up here tossing snowballs for the dog to catch.

It does feel a bit strange to listen to all the spring bird songs while looking at this winter weather.

Hope it’s warmer and sunnier wherever you are 🙂

Spring is here, and so are the CHICKENS!!!

Finally, after our first long winter on the farm, the ice is receding, the stream is bubbling, and ten fluffy little birds are peeping in the living room. It feels great to finally take a little step further towards self sufficiency and sustainability, and in my opinion there is no happier sound on earth than that of peeping chicks.

We have been planning for around 6-8 hens, but we ended up buying ten chicks, since we don’t know the genders and there will surely be some roosters in there. They are a mix of different breeds that lay different colours of eggs. We originally planned to raise a breed of chickens that Tux had seen before that have green legs and lay green eggs, but I came across a farm advertising that they had chicks available from hens laying a mix of colours, and we couldn’t resist. So we actually have no idea what kind of chickens we ended up with!

The chicks are two weeks old except one that is a week younger, so they aren’t as tame or comfortable with us as they would be if we hatched them here, but we plan to spoil them with treats, so we’re pretty sure they’ll learn to like us. It’s so addictive to watch them! We have two chairs set up next to the brooder and we spend as much time as we can sitting with them.

IMG_9587

We enjoy watching them so much we set up a 24/7 live video stream! You can find that here, if you feel like you could use a smile 🙂

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 09.16.53

By the way, if you’re watching with audio on and you hear a lot of banging or rumbling, that’s probably one of two things (besides us walking around and closing doors etc). The chicks really like pecking on the wall that holds the camera, and they also make quite a bit of noise when they drink from their water bottle, so that might explain some of the noise. You’ll also hear us chatting from time to time as we watch them 🙂

The Brooder

Our brooder is mostly made from materials we found around the house, plus a few things that were just a lot easier to purchase. Here’s how it looks:

IMG_9578

The plastic container is a water tank we found in the basement when we moved in. It hadn’t been used before, and since it was so big Tux and my dad had to cut it in half to get it out of the room it was in. It happened to be a perfect size and shape for the chicks. The feeder is a bird feeder which we also found on the farm when we moved in. I gave it a good wash, and it seems to be working nicely. I’m amazed at how quickly they manage to empty it, though a lot of the food seems to just get kicked around in the shavings.

We bought the heat lamp and water bottle. The lamp arm came from a microphone Tux had over his desk, and it allows us to raise and lower the lamp to adjust the temperature.

The wooden divider (a board we found under the barn and cut to size) is just clamped to the sides of the tank, so we can expand it as they grow and start to need more space.

For water we are using one of those rabbit water bottles with the little metal ball (which is what makes the rumbling sound when they drink):

IMG_9545

Since they aren’t in a cage with bars to hook the bottle onto, I made a holder out of an empty plastic bottle and put rocks in the bottom to keep it from falling over.

The wooden block raises the bottle so it’s at a comfortable height, and prevents any water from dripping into the shavings.

The feeding station:

IMG_9547

They still like sleeping all piled up together in a big mass of fluff and feathers, but I nailed a small branch from the firewood pile onto two little blocks, so if they want to try roosting on a branch they have a little perch they can use for practice. Some of them do climb up on it now and then, but it doesn’t seem like they have good enough balance or stability to really fall asleep like that at this point.

IMG_9586

 

The food we’re starting with is organic chick pellets, which were kind of expensive. As we get more established we’d like to produce as much of their food as possible ourselves both to save money and make the whole thing more self sufficient and sustainable. We also want the chickens to have a more natural and varied diet which we feel will be healthier and more interesting for them than commercial pellets.

The Coop

The original intention was to have the chicken coop finished before getting the birds. That didn’t happen, so the new plan is to have it ready when they are ready for it. My prediction is that we’re going to end up with ten big chickens flapping around the living room and we still haven’t figured out what kind of fencing to secure their run with. Sometimes we just need a real push from some outside force to actually get things done. We’ve been talking about getting chickens for a very long time now, even before we bought the farm, but we still ended up slapping the brooder together the day before we got the chicks. That’s how life is when both people in the relationship are heavy duty procrastinators 🙂

But that’s ok! Things work out. We have the chicks, they seem to be doing great, even though we really have no idea what we’re doing and have to google everything.

Here’s the coop as it stands now. We’ve never had chickens before, so we decided to start out by building the coop in such a way that it’s not actually a permanent structure and if we end up liking the whole chicken thing (I suspect we will) we can build a bigger, more permanent coop or fix up the barn so it’s chicken-friendly. With a few small adjustments this coop can be used as a nice chicken tractor, or if it all goes horribly wrong we can just take it apart and forget about it.

IMG_9502.JPG

Other Spring Updates

Phoebe is growing up incredibly fast! I can’t believe how much she has changed since we first brought her home. Now that she’s a little bigger we go out hiking together almost every day. We usually spend about an hour exploring the forests around us. Phoebe loves sniffing through the moss and carrying sticks around. We have a lot of fun our walks, and I can already feel a difference in my own physical fitness since I started hiking with her.

We are incredibly fortunate to live in such a beautiful area with endless opportunities to explore and enjoy nature just outside the door.

The critter cam has been busy keeping tabs on the local wildlife. I recently moved it up the hill where I’ve noticed a lot of moose poop and tracks, so hopefully we’ll have some nice moose pictures in the near future!

Our first farm animals, the worms, are also doing very well. They have a much nicer home now than what they started in and they are thriving in there, along with enormous numbers of small arthropods and microorganisms. At this point they consume about a third of the food waste we produce, the rest goes into the compost bin outside or we send it to the township if it’s things like meat scraps or bones that we aren’t set up to compost ourselves. The worm bin doesn’t stink, even if you stick your head in it (I can say this from experience), and there is already a decent layer of rich finished compost forming at the bottom. Overall, this project is a huge success!

I’ve also been taking a Norwegian class in Notodden at the adult learning center, so altogether I haven’t had as much time to draw as I’d like, but I have been continuing work on the soil life series, here is the newest work in progress:

IMG_9474

This drawing is taking quite a lot of time, because it’s fairly detailed and takes significant time just to mentally get into working on it, especially with so much other interesting stuff starting to happen around me. Imagine drawing a gravel driveway, stone by stone.

*yawn*

Still, I do what I can when I can, and it’s getting there. The effort is always worth it in the end 🙂

 

 

 

Arctic Tern Painting and Winter Update

This acrylic canvas painting of an Arctic Tern was a Christmas present, so now that the gift has been given I can post it here:

img_8586

Tux’s family lives near the coast, and when we visit I enjoy watching terns hover over the water, scouting for fish before they strike. As usual with phone pictures, the colours and lighting have been exaggerated a bit. Sometimes I wish I had a giant scanner just for paintings because taking pictures of them can be quite a challenge if the lighting isn’t ideal, and in my studio it’s far from ideal.

This time of year it’s almost always dark in the house. It’s near the base of  a large hill which is higher than the winter sun, so regardless of windows we can’t see the sun at all in the depth of winter. On nice days we still get blue skies and light of course, and on a sunny day I can determine approximately where behind the hill the sun is, but we can’t see the sun itself. Now I understand why so many holidays were originally based on things like the changing seasons; we are eagerly waiting for those first golden rays to reach over the trees signaling the return of warmth and light. After living in the city for three years, now I finally understand the Norwegian love of sitting in the sunshine, and why the easter holiday is such a big deal here. On one of the first days when I was in Canada this past Christmas, I realized it was sunny outside and I stepped out onto the porch, eager to feel the warmth on my skin, but it was -15C and that didn’t quite go as I expected. I hurried back inside before my feet froze to the deck boards. It was sunny almost every day while I was there, and not every day was that cold (boxing day was +9!), so now I consider going home for Christmas to be my “sunny holiday” for the winter. Norwegians go to Spain, I go to Canada 😉

I still love winter, and we have plenty to keep ourselves busy indoors, we just can’t do much outside these days because the whole landscape is a sheet of ice. 

It’s so slippery even the cat wipes out!

I sit inside painting and planning the coming gardens, waiting. It will be a relief when we can just walk outside and not worry about breaking a wrist or tailbone. I’ve got some lovely new bruises just from walking across the backyard to check on our new wildlife camera.

Speaking of which, here is our first catch from the “critter cam”!

img_8977

There have been loads of fox tracks around and we were told that a fox lived under the barn, which is why I’m determined to keep our kitty indoors at night as much as possible. It was fun to finally see the fox itself. I’ve seen lots of moose and deer tracks in this spot too, and we were told there are badgers around too, but so far haven’t had pictures of anything other than this fox and a neighbour’s cat prowling around.

As soon as I arrived back in Norway after Christmas, exhausted and jet lagged, we took a 10 hour drive up to Trondheim to pick up our “new” 40 year old electric garden tractor, which we are very excited about. The tractor came with solar panels for charging, so it’s totally self sufficient and emission free. These were never sold in Norway; it was imported from the states and as far as we know it’s the only one of its kind here, so we are absolutely thrilled to have it. It’s something we can fix ourselves if it breaks down since it was built before everything was so high tech and built to be “disposable”, so things were made to be fixable. The tractor came with all kinds of attachments, and we are super excited to see what it is capable of. I especially love how quiet it is compared to the diesel tractor or the gas lawn mower.

img_8912

Now things are starting to feel normal for the first time in what feels like forever. There are no more major life changes on the horizon. We’re settled in, the chaos of the holidays is over and I’m recovered from all the travel and getting back into work mode. I’ve got a contract coming up soon so I have had to push myself a bit to get back into drawing, which is always difficult if I’ve been away from it for a while, especially picking up where I left off on a work in progress. The current project involves a nematode being trapped by a fungus, like this. Nature can be pretty gruesome!

Hope you’re staying cozy and warm this winter 🙂

img_8945

Winter from the kitchen window ❤ 

We have worms!

I have a vivid memory, more like a nightmare, from when I was in grade one (around 6 years old) of a teacher shouting at me for putting a whole apple with just a couple of bites out ofstock-illustration-9106475-friendly-worm-in-an-apple it into the school worm bin. This was my first introduction to vermicomposting, and I remember feeling intense shame while I was told (harshly) that the worms couldn’t possibly eat through a whole apple. They need food to come in smaller pieces. I remember the teacher acting as though I had dumped rat poison into the bin.

Now, 20 years later, I’m having flashbacks of the humiliation I felt that day as I chop up some apple scraps for our new worm bin here at home. It’s a reminder of how intensely some childhood experiences can stick with us, and how a tiny moment can make a lasting impact that carries even into adulthood.

This week I was lucky enough to take home a bucket of compost worms that were survivors from a soil biology course we put on at work. I doubt many other people would have reacted with such enthusiasm when offered a bucket of worms, but I was delighted. I’ve been wanting to start a vermicompost bin for several years now (after having recovered from my childhood trauma) but it hasn’t happened for various reasons. Now there is a squirmy worm family wiggling around under the kitchen counter and I couldn’t be happier about it.

The worm bin cost us exactly nothing to set up. We found some shallow boxes in the basement that weren’t being used for anything. It’s fairly small so we’ll probably expand to two or more later on if it goes well and we find that we produce more scraps than the worms can process.

The first thing I did was shred some newspaper and dampened it to what felt like a comfy worm bedding moisture level, which I think is something like a damp sponge. I mixed it around and fluffed it up so it was evenly damp. Worms breathe through their skin and this requires a balance of air and moisture, so it’s important that the bedding is damp but not soaked. Once the newspaper felt right I mixed in some of the compost that came along with the worms. This will inoculate the bedding with other critters that help with decomposition, such as springtails, mites, protozoa, and bacteria. It also has some grit in it which worms swallow and use in place of teeth.

img_7472

I had no idea how many worms I brought home, so I took some time to separate them from the compost and weigh them in. Knowing how many worms are in the bin will give us an idea of how much food to give them. The right amount of food will keep the worms happy and active, and it’ll keep the bin clean and nice. We’re keeping it in the kitchen, so that’s very important. I’ll also keep a record of the weight so I know if the population changes over time.

There were somewhere around 80-90g of worms. The scale says 96g, but of course there is still some wet compost stuck to them and at this point I was feeling bad for them all huddled together in a ball, so I didn’t bother with cleaning them and being very precise about the weight. According to various websites, the worms should get about 3x their weight in food each week.

As someone who works with soil biology, I appreciate earthworms and actually find them kind of cute. I have to admit though, I didn’t love the feeling of worms squirming out between my fingers when I held them in my hands.

After weighing I put the worms into their new home and covered them up with some leaves from the backyard. The leaves will act like a mulch to help maintain moisture in the bin and add a bit more organic material. It also looks kind of nice, like having a little piece of the forest floor in the house. The box has a lid but I probably won’t use it unless we go away for a few days or get a cat. I imagine a cat would love to use the bin as a litter box which I’m not sure the worms would appreciate.

img_7479

So that’s it! The worms will live in the kitchen and do their thing, turning food waste into awesome plant food year round, and giving us a convenient place to dispose of scraps right in the kitchen. Eventually when we have chickens, we plan to increase worm production so that we can use excess worms as chicken treats. Tux thinks this seems heartless, after everything the worms are doing for us, and I agree… but such is farm life I guess, circle of life and all that.

Oh, I also started another project this morning: homemade apple cider vinegar, following these instructions. I’ve never actually used apple cider vinegar before, mostly because it seems overly expensive, but I’ve seen it recommended for a huge range of things and it sounds very useful, so we’ll see how this experiment goes. I have to say I really like this type of project where you set something up then just leave it alone and wait a while. It fits very nicely with my habit of jumping around from one thing to the next.

img_7482

I still haven’t been able to concentrate on art since we’re so busy these days and I don’t have a studio space set up yet, so here’s a random pen and watercolour drawing of a salmon I did a few weeks ago, just so I can keep calling this my “art blog” while so much other stuff is going on. I think things will start to calm down soon once we’re finished moving and start to develop a routine at the new place, and then hopefully I’ll be able to start focusing on drawing and painting again 🙂

Atlantic salmon.png

 

 

First Weekend at the Farm

 

img_7247

5am view from the front yard

img_7155

Finally! After several long weeks of ending each day with a high-five, celebrating that we made it 24 hours closer to the farm, moving day actually came. We packed up the van and drove down to meet with the previous owner. He gave us a thorough walkthrough of the house, talking about chimneys and well pumps and things like that, papers were signed, and then he drove away. Suddenly the place was ours.

For a moment it was surreal, and a bit scary. It almost felt like when you’re going down the stairs and there was one less step than you thought and you try to step down again but hit the floor instead. We’ve been talking and dreaming about doing this for a few years now, and suddenly the time has come to face the fantasy and see if it lives up to our expectations. After just three days on the farm (in summer and off work), I can’t say we have really experienced the reality just yet but we are still fully confident that this was the right move and we will be very happy here.  IMG_7267Overall things seem to be even better than we thought they were when we first visited and made the decision to buy it. I expected that to go the other way.

I am still struggling to come to terms with the downed forest, since that was one of the things I had been most eager about when we were first looking at the (apparently outdated) satellite images of the property. I had anticipated easy access to beautiful forest trails near the house, and to rest assured that nobody would come and chop down my sanctuary. We do still have forest surrounding us in all directions and it is spectacular, but all the land closest to the house has been cleared right up to the edge of the property, so the beautiful backdrop and convenient access to the woods from the house are not ours, and therefore not safe from logging.

IMG_7256

Nope, we didn’t have a tornado.

I have already walked through some parts of the intact forest and it will be hard not to get attached. But as I keep telling myself, what’s done is done and the seventy year old trees (I counted rings) will not return anytime soon, so we have to just watch and admire the way nature slowly rebuilds itself after catastrophe. Tornadoes and forest fires would have had a similar effect, so I try to see humans as a different kind of natural disaster and that makes it a little easier to deal with. The property is still incredible, and with the loss of the forest comes many unique opportunities. Permaculture is about embracing and working with what you’ve got around you, and this is an opportunity to do that.

I would like to let some of it return naturally to wilderness or semi wilderness (zones 4-5 in permaculture design). Ideally we’d create a gradient of management zones, with the most intensively managed landscape closest to the house, and the lower maintenance areas such as orchards farther away towards the wilderness. Our heads are just spinning with ideas and possibilities. I feel like an overexcited kid jumping from one thing to the next, all these years of thinking and wishing for this opportunity are bubbling up and exploding in all directions now that we have actual land to work with.

Moving in

The first night was really weird. We were bringing stuff into the house from the  cars, and it really felt like we were just unpacking for a weekend at the cabin or house sitting for someone, and pretending or wishing we were going to live here. We kept reminding ourselves that this cool place is our new home.

We couldn’t move everything in one go, so meals were pretty basic over the weekend and it was fun figuring out how to do things without all the stuff we are used to having on hand.

IMG_7253We did lots of grilling too which was amazing after living in an apartment for so long and not being able to BBQ on the balcony.

On saturday we realized that we had enormously underestimated the amount of fruit that is already growing here. Plums, two types of gooseberries (stikkelsbær), red currants (rips), white currants (hvit rips?), and more black currants (solbær) than we will ever know what to do with. There are also several large patches of blueberries around, but it seems like humans or wildlife have been into them as there aren’t many actual berries left.

We spent some time picking red currants for eating (great with vanilla sauce and in cereal) and making jelly. I didn’t bring any jars or sugar to make jelly but I did happen have a large container, so I cleaned and froze the berries for later. I used lined cookie sheets to freeze the berries individually in batches, so that they wouldn’t end up in a solid mass. This way I can take out a handful now and then as needed, or use larger amounts to make jelly when I’m ready to do that.

dessert

I had berries with vanilla sauce, and Tux had vanilla sauce with berries.

We have many steep learning curves ahead of us, in all aspects of managing this place. Just from this little berry-picking experience I’ve already leveled up and learned some new things. Next time I will pick the twigs rather than individual berries, so that both picking and cleaning them is easier, and I’ll use a smaller container or pick smaller amounts at a time so the bottom ones don’t get crushed.

There is quite a bit of lawn to maintain (eventually much of it will be gardens) so the lawn mower got some use right away, but there wasn’t much fuel in it and we didn’t think to bring any gas with us so we didn’t get very far.

IMG_7160

The road leading to the farm was closed on saturday, so we weren’t able to go out and get a gas can, then of course it’s Norway so everything is closed on sunday and it didn’t happen then either.

IMG_7212

This is why the road was closed on saturday

Wildlife

There are definitely moose here. Either a lot of them, or a few that visit frequently. We haven’t seen the animals themselves yet, but their presence is obvious. There are moose droppings and tracks all over, including two big plops right on the front lawn. Like many people, I thought moose droppings were always big pellets like those chocolate covered almonds they sell as “moose poop”. At first I was mildly freaked out, wondering what else could have possibly dropped such big piles. Thanks to Google I learned that moose poop can be more like a cow patty too, depending on the season and what it’s been eating.

The tracks are surprisingly big too…

In case that wasn’t enough poop pictures, here is one more. This one I believe is from a deer who I suspect is the reason we don’t have many blueberries around. Hopefully soon we’ll get some pictures of the animals themselves!IMG_7228

There are birds around, but not as many as we had expected. We found a bird feeder on the lawn and put some seed in it, which the local magpies found pretty quickly. I’ve also seen and heard some songbirds and have heard ravens a few times but considering the vast forest around us, it is a lot quieter than I would have expected.

Behind the barn we have a massive ant colony. I can’t say for sure, but I am pretty confident that these trails in the grass are actually ant highways leading to and from the main colony (which surrounds the stump in the bottom pictures). The first time we were here I wandered over there in flip flops and the ants made their presence known immediately, so now I only go there in boots. The colony is pretty fascinating to watch, I just hope they don’t decide to invade the house.

The loggers were anything but gentle here and left behind massive scars in the landscape which have collected quite a bit of water and formed mini ponds. Nature has a way of making things work though, and we have seen some dragonflies patrolling around the mini ponds and by the house. I think this is why there are surprisingly few mosquitoes around despite all that standing water. I thought we would have been smacking them all day but we really only notice them further into the forest (away from the water), and around the house in the early evening when they are normally the worst anyway. Dragonflies are a mosquito’s worst nightmare, hunting them both as larvae and adults. I think we would be smart to work around these wet areas and try to incorporate them into our plans in order to leave the dragonfly habitat intact as much as possible.

Of course, we have plenty of bees and butterflies around too 🙂

IMG_7271

Wild Treasures

While walking through the deforested areas I found a few cool souvenirs. There are large slices of logs lying among the debris, including the one pictured below. I had actually noticed this one at the first showing, noted the location and then went back to get it once we moved in. Sadly that crack you can see at the bottom right has opened into a big split and it won’t work as a platter or decorative piece anymore. I also found several longer chunks of thick logs that we can haul down and set up around the fire pit for sitting.

IMG_7216 copy

In addition to the cultivated fruits near the house, there is plenty of wild food around. There are wild strawberries, blueberries, and a few more berries whose identities I need to confirm before tasting, and the place is filled with mushrooms which I also don’t plan to eat until I can confirm who’s who. There are abundant wild edible and medicinal herbs too, including St John’s wort, meadowsweet, yarrow, fireweed, nettles, and wood sorrel which I love to nibble on while hiking. Maybe someday I’ll do some herbal posts describing these plants and what they are useful for.

It seems like everywhere I look here there is an edible or otherwise useful plant, but there are also some most definitely non-edible things around, like this cool looking but hallucinogenic and highly toxic Super Mario mushroom, aka fly agaric or fly amanita. This one is obvious but I know there are many other poisonous mushrooms and plants around here, so I won’t be tasting anything from the woods unless I know exactly what it is.

IMG_7169

What now?

The next big things on the to-do list are to renovate the shower upstairs (for some reason the drain is on the highest part of the floor…), and to plan and build a chicken coop. Very soon I should have my art studio set up as well, along with my digital drawing stuff. I’m really looking forward to that as it’s been basically impossible to do much artwork in the apartment these last few months and I have missed spending time on that. We have many visitors coming soon to prepare for, and we also have more moving and settling in, of course, and then there is all the general planning and deciding what to do and how to really get started.

It will be pretty busy going forward, but busy in the best way imaginable 🙂

 

 

Plantain Salve for Bug Bites

IMG_6877

Finally, after just over four weeks I’ve decided to harvest my solar infused plantain oil and make a homemade bug bite remedy. The picture above is from when I first added the leaves to oil. I should have taken a picture of the jar before I strained the oil out but I completely forgot. It looked quite different after a month (the oil was more yellow, and the leaves had become very dark).

This project started back in the beginning of July, right after we bought our farm and met the local black flies. When we got home I picked a few plantain leaves from our balcony boxes and dried them in the dehydrator. When they were nice and crispy I put them in a small jar with some oil (just cooking oil, nothing special), and set the jar in a sunny window. Each day I checked the jar and gave it a little shake to mix things up. I doubt that was really necessary, but I liked doing it 🙂

Making the salve itself was actually disappointingly easy. Most of the work was just cleaning wax off of things afterwards.

I forgot to take a picture of the wax before it was was melted but I should have. I sacrificed a cute little pinecone shaped beeswax candle that I’ve had sitting around for years. I still remember buying it, it was at the farmer’s market in the town where I lived for university. It was so cute I could never bring myself to use it but today laziness won. I have been collecting scraps of beeswax from candles over the past few years, assuming I’d one day get inspired to try stuff like this but that collection is currently packed away in a box somewhere downstairs in the storage unit. My little pine cone candle was the only beeswax in the apartment except for a very beautiful (and regularly used) pillar candle that I wasn’t willing to melt down. I decided the pine cone had been sitting around long enough and it was time to give it a new and much more useful purpose.

So into the pot it went.

IMG_7084

I don’t have a double boiler so I put the lid from a jar of pasta sauce in the bottom of a regular pot and set a little pot on top, surrounded by water. As the water heats up the wax inside the little pot is warmed up more gently and evenly than it would be if the small pot was sitting directly on the stove. At first I put the whole candle in but it was melting slower than I expected and I didn’t want to use too much heat, so I took it out and chopped it up into small pieces, which melted much faster.

While waiting for the wax to melt I strained the oil and discarded the leaves.

IMG_7085

Plantain infused oil after one month in a sunny window

When the beexwax was melted, I poured the oil into the pot with it. Most of the beeswax instantly cooled and solidified since the oil was at room temperature.

IMG_7086

I kept the heat on and stirred it until the wax returned to liquid and fully mixed with the oil. It only took a few minutes.

IMG_7089

I was going to put the salve in a jar but a wider container made more sense, so I found an empty Lush soap tin I had sitting around.  By pure chance it just happened to be the perfect size for the amount that I was working with.

IMG_7092

After a while the salve cooled and hardened into something like lip balm.

IMG_7093

It’s actually so much like lip balm I’m now considering making some of that using a similar method.

Now I just need some bug bites to try this stuff on 😉

Exploring our new home

We went to visit the farm today and explore the surrounding area a little bit. We still have to wait a few weeks before we can move, but the current owner was kind enough to let us store some stuff there while we work on selling the apartment in Oslo.

It turns out Notodden, the town closest to the farm, is amazing! It’s a small town with a lot of personality. Here is a view of main street, which actually reminds me quite a lot of Orillia, Ontario, where I went to university.

IMG_6938

We got some lunch then wanted to explore the town a little, so we asked this random viking for directions and he showed us his boat at the docks.

Every few minutes, a scrappy low riding car with thundering bass would roll by. Apparently Notodden is known for something called “råner”, which google translates to “greaser”. Basically, my understanding is that it’s a subculture where people just cruise around town with lowered cars and powerful sound systems that can literally shake pieces off the cars. I love big bass and when we first met Tux’s car had a sound system that could blow my hair around so we just grinned at each other every time one of these cars went by.

We also spotted a rather strange sculpture in the middle of town, but that’s something I’ve come to expect in Norway. Not too sure what the story is behind this one, or any of them really.

So we left town on our way to the farm and discovered a stave church, which it turns out was build in the 1200s and is the biggest one in Norway. There is also an open air museum with medieval buildings around there, so there will be no shortage of local things to see and do when we get visitors from Canada 🙂

IMG_6944

Finally, we left civilization and headed into the wilderness towards our new paradise. On the gravel road up to the farm a fox crossed in front of us, and we spotted what looks to me like a beaver dam in the river.  We will have to watch for moose and deer when driving here, and our chicken coop will need good protection against hungry foxes.

IMG_6945

Here are some pictures from around the property. The buildings are in good shape, just the barn needs some attention (possibly a total rebuild).

We love the house, the location, and the property as a whole, but what I’m most excited for is the natural abundance that is already there, and the potential for so much more. I spotted at least five different kinds of berries, including black currents, blueberries, raspberries, I think gooseberries, and Norway’s very special little wild strawberries that are so sweet you’d swear they were actual candy. There is also a young cherry tree that just started producing fruit last year.

There were also these cute but rather sketchy looking orange mushrooms in the lawn. I have absolutely no idea what they are.

IMG_6949

The place was humming with insect life too. Many different butterflies, bees, and other pollinators were hard at work in the wildflowers.

Of course, we will have to get used to bug bites when we live here. Twice I found myself standing (in flip flops) on a nest of biting ants, and though the sun was out this time, the last two times were cloudy with some rain, and we came home with many black fly bites. We haven’t seen any mosquitoes yet though, so fingers crossed those won’t be a big issue here 🙂

Oh and I’m sure the day will come where I will have a tick on me and I’m really, really dreading that, but it’s a small price to pay for living in such an amazing place.

There is one sad thing about the property, which is this:

IMG_6971

I guess the owner felt that having the forest so close felt “dark and gloomy” and he mowed down almost every tree in the vicinity of the house, right up to the edge of the property. Just to “brighten it up a bit”. Not sure why he painted his house almost black if he wanted to brighten things up, but I guess everyone has their reasons for doing things. One of the reasons I loved this property from the start was that it had (on the satellite map) a beautiful forest surrounding the house on all sides. I was looking forward to getting to know these woods and calling them our own, having a place we knew would be allowed to thrive and remain wild for as long as we were there. However what’s done is done, and we will make the most of it. I am looking forward to watching the site come back to life, and I am interested in starting a “food forest”, so maybe this area will work well for a project like that.

I am so, so looking forward to starting our new life here. I can’t wait to really dig in and get to know the natural ecosystem, and I can’t wait to start building our farm ecosystem. Since it all starts with good soil, the first thing I plan to do is build a compost pile, and I want to start a worm bin for vermicompost too. We are planning to build a chicken coop this fall so that we can raise some laying hens in the new year. So many things to do and so much to plan for, but right now all we can do is sit in our nearly empty apartment and wait.