The Gibson family farm has been in our family since 1906. It has been a fully functioning farm the whole time. My Grandfather and Great-Grandfather grew mostly canola and durum, and for the past ten years my father has been raising sheep. Our farm is located in the south-west corner of Saskatchewan. I grew up mostly in the city of Saskatoon, spending my summers out at the farm. You could say I have a bit of farm-kid in me. The farm spans for hundreds of acres around the farmhouse, but the garden is just down a path through the yard. This is where the magic happens...

It's not that weird, is it? May 31

                       Good Lord, I worked hard today, and the day isn't even over yet. I logged quite a few hours helping my dad load bales of hay onto his truck to bring home. These are the smaller square bales that weigh anywhere from 60 - 130 lbs, depending on how tightly packed the hay is. I packed about 130 of them. Keep in mind, that some of these bales weigh more than I do. Somewhere around the 90th bale or so, I found a little surprise in one of them... a nest of baby mice. 
                       At first I was kinda creeped out by these tiny, pink squirming things. But then I heard them squeaking, and I fell in love. I put them in an old carton that was in the truck, and gave them some hay so sleep in.  I put them on the floor of the truck for safekeeping. They're now beside me as I sit on my bed typing. I gave them a nicer box, and some soft fleece. I tried to feed them milk from a syringe, but all I accomplished was flooding their noses with milk. That's bad. They can drown that way. So, I'm at a loss. On top of that, I have to keep the mice a secret from my stepmother.... who is afraid of mice and would sooner give them to the cats as snacks than keep them in a box and try to feed them. I just hope they survive the night. Statistics say that in the wild, only about 50% of mice live to be adults. The chances of these guys surviving is not great.
My dad thinks I'm nuts (which I am of course). Just yesterday I was cheering the barn cats on as they took on a giant gopher and won. Now I'm coddling a handful of rodents and hoping they don't die. Some people keep mice as pets, so it's not that weird, is it?    Is it?

Spilled Milk May 30

          Well, after 23 successful births, we have hit a bit of a snag.We have a pair of twins that were born this afternoon that need milk. Their mother had a very difficult birth, and she is so weak she can't stand up. Furthermore... she has no milk. So, for now at least, these lambs will have to be bottle-fed.
     Lamb formula is a great alternative to milk when real milk is not available. It has all the nutrients a growing lamb needs, but it does have one downfall. Mother's milk is fortified with all of the antibodies that the mother has acquired in her lifetime. These antibodies are the baby's only immunity to the outside world. Lamb formula doesn't have this essential element. There is absolutely no substitute for the real thing. 
So, left with no milk, it seemed our only solution was formula. But my dad had an idea. We borrowed some milk from a different mother who had just had one baby, put it in a bottle, and fed those little guys. And man were those guys hungry!! They spilled half of it all over themselves just trying to suck it down as fast as they could!! But they were full up by the time they were done. This borrowing trick was only a temporary solution of course, but if they have to be on formula from now on, at least I can sleep soundly knowing they had a quick boost of the nutritious good stuff. 

Over-indulgence = Greed May 29

         Adjusting to small town life has been a challenge. As of this moment I am violently craving the Sticky Toffee Pudding from Earl's. Now, of course there is no Earl's in my small town, that's no surprise... but as of 6:00pm, there isn't even a grocery store!!! In the city, if you are craving something at 11:00 at night, you can pretty much damn well go out and get it. Last night around 11:00, my snack was a handful of Shreddies that I'm pretty sure were older than I am. (Important Sidenote: remember when cereals like Shreddies and Cornflakes used to come with toys in the boxes??? Why don't they do that anymore??? That was so awesome! My sisters and I were left with bruises from trying to get at those toys!)
         The more I crave something I can't have, the more valuable it becomes. This also increases the appreciation I feel when I finally get what I want. Maybe it's not such a bad thing to wait for something you desire. After all, we're all so spoiled here in North America having all the pleasures and excesses that we do that being denied having every single little thing might just make us a more respectful bunch. If over-indulgence equals greed then doesn't occasional denial equal gratefulness? Take it from me, there's nothing like a handful of stale Shreddies to make you appreciate a warm piece of chocolate cake smothered in warm caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice-cream. By the way, next time your in Saskatoon, go to Earl's and appreciate the Sticky Toffee Pudding.

The Most Natural Thing - May 27

Lambing season is here!!! I've been anxiously waiting for the babies to come since March, which is when they usually come. This year they're late, which is better anyways, because March in Saskatchewan is absolutely frigid. A couple of years ago, I remember staying up all night in a giant snowsuit stuffing babies inside my suit to share my body heat. This year will be a breeze.
Just yesterday, six lambs were born, and two more arrived this morning. But the day is not over!!! We have 70 moms expecting, and lambs are capable of having triplets. But the standard is usually one or two. After the lambs are born, we put them alone in a pen with their mothers, so they can bond with each other. And do they ever!!! Never get between a protective mama and her baby!!! Last year I was thrown into the side if the pen a few times by an angry ewe who thought I was stealing her baby!! 
My parents are seasoned farmers, so they don't even bat an eyelash when the babies start pouring in. But I still think it's magical.      Except for the part where the ewe starts to eat the placenta!!!!The first time I saw a sheep chowing down on her own afterbirth... I screamed " Dad this sheep has rabies!!!!"  He rolled his eyes and calmly explained to me that this is actually quite common among animals who have just given birth. The placenta is rich in iron and other nutrients, just what a new mother needs.    I'll give you a minute to puke or faint, whatever your preference is. 
Another gruesome side of sheep rearing is when the baby is breech. See, lambs are all legs, and these lanky extremities sometimes get stuck in the birth canal. A difficult birth is known as"dystocia". This is an emergency situation in which the farmer has to step in. The farmer slips on a sleeve which is a thin glove that goes almost up to the shoulder, this prevents you from transferring bacteria into the mother sheep ( also provides a barrier between your hand and sheep insides...... ugh) The farmer must slip his hand and arm into the birth canal, readjusting the baby, while simultaneously pulling the baby out with the other hand.  It sounds slippery and easy, but trust me, it takes every ounce of strength to pop that sucker out!!! They do not come easy. But when the baby finally slips out into your hands, and your sweating and panting and exhausted ( not to mention the mother!!)  suddenly the whole atrocious process doesn't seem quite so disgusting. It seems like the most natural thing in the world.
Right now, in the wonderful province of Saskatchewan, we are in the middle of tick season. As a city girl, I’ve never even seen a tick. Well, except for the one unlucky guy that hitched a ride on my co-workers pant leg. We put him in a pill bottle and tried to keep him alive with African violet leaves and drops of blood from another incredibly generous co-worker who just happened to give herself a papercut. We named him Ted. Ted survived an impressive three days in his new home, before his untimely death which resulted in toilet bowl funeral. Poor Ted.  But I digress. Back to tick season. Quite honestly, I’m terrified of any tick outside of a plastic pill bottle. For starters, they’re very small, they lurk in tall grass (which I am surrounded by for miles) and... they suck blood!!!! Any creature that drinks my blood is not okay in my books.  Also, they carry the dreaded Lyme disease, which is extremely uncommon but non-the-less frightening.  The best way to protect yourself is by avoiding tall grass and wearing long pants and covered feet. Insect repellent containing DEET is also recommended.  My big black rubber boots seem to protect me just fine, but what about my dogs? Molly is basically a walking cottonball and Charlie is brown, which makes it hard to find anything in his fur. I tried the liquid stuff that you apply to the skin back of their neck. This is supposed to keep not only ticks away, but also fleas and mosquitoes. But it’s very toxic, and it made their fur incredibly greasy and reeking like orange cleaner. So into the bathtub with the pups and into the garbage with the rest of the toxic, greasy liquid.  So I guess it’s nightly fur checks for the dogs, which, trust me, will have to involve more than a few pacifying Milkbones (they don't approve of being inspected). But alas, I will sleep soundly knowing there are no ticks lurking in the shadows of my blankets.
3 weeks ago, I chose my seeds. Carefully. I tried not to go overboard as I tend to do any time a Master card is involved, so I just bought the essentials. Peas, beans, corn, beets, carrots ( three different colours... that’s right, you can buy different coloured carrots) onions, tomatoes and three different kinds of potatoes... red, gold and Russian blue. And lettuce. And garlic. Oh ya, and chillies.
I took them home, and carefully planted my heirloom tomatoes, and peas and beans in those little compostable pots that decompose in the garden. My dad laughed at me for starting peas and beans in the house, because they should be sown directly into the garden. But I just wanted a head start. It’s bloody cold in this province, and I want a steady income of peas, damnit.
Now, 3 weeks later my peas and beans have skyrocketed... they are almost too big for their pots now, but it’s too early to plant them outside. Which is what my dad claims he knew would happen. So what? I still have lots of seeds left, and I can still salvage my teenage plants, I think. They just got over-excited at the prospect of getting out there and planted in their rightful place in the garden.
My tomatoes, that’s another story. As I said, I planted an heirloom variety, a veritable rainbow of tomatoes ranging from yellow all the way to purple. The picture on the seed package shows a shining family of brilliant colours, plump and juicy on their thick green vines. I look at my seedlings. They aren’t complete failures as much as maybe just shy; there are little pale green stems with baby leaves poking out of my pots. In an uncharacteristic gesture of encouragement, my dad says this is normal, and they will in fact grow up to be big and healthy. But is it normal? They look like premature babies. I’ve always bought my tomatoes as plants from a greenhouse, so I don’t really know. I guess we’ll see...I’ll cross my fingers and say a little prayer for my preemies.  
So here we are. First week of May. I simply cannot wait to get my plants in the ground. But before I do that, the garden must be cultivated, and then supplemented with compost. I am ecstatic about this compost!!! Really, it's just the scrapings of the floor of the barn, which is just hay and sheep manure. This mixture is pushed via bobcat to a field just beyond the barn, where it sits in the sun, then the snow, then the sun again, until it decomposes completely.
And this is what makes my blood start pumping. Just thinking about that glorious pile of beautiful compost makes me delirious in anticipation of planting ANYTHING in this treasure trove of soil. Nothing you can buy is this good. They call it “black gold”. It's soft and crumbly to the touch, with just a hint of moisture... and then there's the smell!! It smells like spring itself. Earthy and woody.
Alright, alright. I'm rambling, I know. It's just that they don't make soil like they used to. Most gardens and fields are sprayed so heavily with pesticides and herbicides and chemical fertilizer that, on a microscopic level anyways, it's not really even soil anymore. It's just a pile of dirt.
And in my humble opinion, there is a significant difference between soil and dirt.
Soil is rich with organic material and beneficial bacteria that break down this organic material into compounds that plants need to to be healthy.
Dirt is just dirt. Dirt is dusty and lifeless. And although plants can survive in this kind of environment (nature always finds a way to survive) they don’t thrive. They long for nutrients such as nitrogen and carbon, and the perfect pH balance and soil structure to retain moisture. I feel bad for these plants. They’re like the poor kids in class that can’t afford nice clothes and fruitsnacks. I just want to give them a pick-me-up, and there's nothing like a good old dose of sheep shit to perk ‘em up.
                                    Perhaps i’ve given this too much thought...