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.

 

 

We bought a farm!

We bought a farm!

Finally the long, difficult hunt is over. After a roller coaster of almosts and maybes, we have landed on a nearly perfect place and have already started prepping for the big move. No more urban noise keeping us up and stressing us out, no more construction dust coating everything we own (including our lungs), no more crowded subways and sweaty city buses. Oslo has been good to us overall and we are happy to have had the experience of living here, but now, finally, it’s time to experience “real” Norway.

It’s finally time to crack open my books on root cellars and home canning recipes, start a compost pile and learn about keeping chickens, and best of all, we can finally have a dog. I’ll also have room to set up a more comfortable art space now, and we’ll be in an environment that I find far more inspiring so this will be a very positive thing for me as an artist too.

FullSizeRender (1)

More, and better pictures of the farm will come once we have moved 🙂

We will be moving sometime in August, and I’ll post about our experience along the way. I’ll be keeping a farm section here on my art blog for the time being until we have a farm website and dedicated blog set up for that.

There is so much excitement and so much to do now that I have forgotten to eat breakfast for the last three days in a row, and I’m one of those people who never skips breakfast. We will have to sell the apartment as soon as we can, which means removing almost all of our belongings and neurotically cleaning every little speck of dust to make it look like we live in a design magazine. We have tools to buy, equipment to think about, and of course, a garden and animals to plan for. We have to remove all of our house and balcony plants for the pictures and showings, which will be quite a challenge on its own in addition to the rest. We are those people who fill up every sunny window with plants, and in our desperation to garden, we have gone so far as to start growing potatoes, peas, and lettuce in addition to herbs, and even started a tiny apple tree on the balcony.

FullSizeRender (2).jpg

Happy balcony potatoes

Right now, in between scrubbing, packing, and planning, I’m drying plantain leaves to make a salve for bug bites because it turns out the farm has a healthy population of blackflies. I’ve been living in an urban environment for so long now, I almost forgot how annoying bug bites can be.

I’ll make a separate post about the plantain salve when it’s finished.

All this cleaning, packing, and planning is hard work, and I picked up a nasty cold just in time for it, but knowing that soon we will actually start making our dream a reality is the most motivating thing in the world. Also, this work is nothing compared to what we will face once we start the farm so we are enjoying the last few weeks of our “vacation life” while we still have it.

Stay tuned for more posts about the farm and hopefully there will be some more art coming up too if I get the time 🙂