Monthly Archives: April 2013

Winter 2013

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus


My invincible summer is starting to feel, well, rather ‘vincible’.  With such an uncharacteristically long and snowy winter, it feels like a story is necessary to properly record the events of ‘Snowpocalypse’ 2012-2013.

On October 18, we had our first snow fall of the 2012/13 winter season. We felt certain that this would be short-lived, and that the fields would have time to dry enough for farmers to finish the last of their harvest before winter really settled in.

October 2012.  Good thing they have their wool sweaters on!

October 2012. Good thing they have their wool sweaters on!

Boy were we wrong!

These oat swaths are going to need to wait for the snow to melt.

These oat swaths are going to need to wait for the snow to melt.

5 days later, October 23 brought the first blizzard of the season, making driving unsafe, and creating early ‘regular winter driving’ conditions. Old man winter was here to stay, and there was nothing left to do but settle in and enjoy his company.

October 2013.  Not looking too happy...

October 2013. Not looking too happy…

And we did.  We enjoyed building snow forts in the fall, and plowing snow so the trick or treaters could get to our door.  We enjoyed the regular exercise that came with shoveling the front walk every two days after a fresh new snow. We had time to settle in around the fire when the roads blew in, and we were thankful to have a full pantry and firewood to get us through the three-day blizzard in March.  With power outages and toilet paper in short supply, my husband commented that this was just like being on a carnival cruise!  He has such a great way of looking at things.

Garden frog waiting for spring.  April 2013!

Garden frog waiting for spring. April 2013!

All of us have enjoyed this winter. To be honest, there haven’t been too many brutally cold days, so its been fun to get out there and enjoy the snow.  During one blizzard, while my husband and his brother were doing what they could to open our road with their tractors, I ventured out on the skidoo to take some pictures of the drifts and the blowing snow.  My thinking was that I wanted to really experience this winter. Years from now, when I tell my grandchildren about the Snowpocalypse of 2012-2013, I want to tell them of how I experienced it first hand…not from the warmth of my sofa, and not from having read about it in the paper while I vacationed at a sunny resort. I wanted to really experience this remarkable winter.

Well that was dumb. After freezing my face and getting stuck on our road, I decided it was just fine to experience the storm from my sofa, in front of the fireplace, with my hot chocolate … and Baileys.

Using the tractor to open our road after another big snow.  March 2013

Using the tractor to open our road after another big snow. March 2013

When our road was successfully cleared of its 10 – 14 foot high snow drifts, I made the somewhat foolish choice to risk life and limb, travelling into town for groceries.  The parking lot presented a new challenge as I pushed my cart through snow drifts toward the store, the wind stealing one of my re-useable, environmentally friendly shopping bags and standing my hair straight up on top of my head.  I’m sure I was quite a sight.  A friendly grocer jokingly said ‘nice day we’re having hey?’   My equally light response was ‘It sure is – but I need someone to explain global warming to me one more time.  I don’t think I understand it correctly.’  This was when the cashier looked down upon my poor sorry little dumb face, and began speaking slowly using small words so that I could understand, “Well, you see….the melting of our polar ice caps is creating change in our climate…” but she stopped there.  I think it may have been the very icy look I gave her that had nothing to do with the snow in my hair or my frozen face, and everything to do with “do you think I actually want the global warming phenomenon explained to me this morning??”

 So it seems that winter has left me in a bit of a bad mood.

As I write this, it’s mid April.  The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the geese have returned…and we have roughly 2 feet of snow on the ground.  It’s snowing today, and the drifts are 10 feet high in some places.  The forecast says we are in for another blizzard this weekend.  The temperature this morning was -19.

Spring fever has hit hard on our farm.  Acting as though it is actually spring, the sun shines in our bedroom window at 6 AM, encouraging us to get up and get started on all of the outside work that can to be done before the cattle can be moved to pasture and the crops can be planted.

Fencing is high on our list of priorities in the spring, and April is a great time to go out and tighten up the wires that have become stretched by heavy snow or fallen trees. 

I'm going to need a shovel to fix this fence.

I’m going to need a shovel to fix this fence.

With snow drifts completely covering the roughly 5 miles of fence that I have checked, I think that this year fencing is going to have to wait. Possibly until June.

Good luck to all of us as we work hard this spring to find enough feed for our livestock, keep our roads open, and stay up all night waiting for little calves and lambs to be born into a very late winter. As we prepare and consider plan B or maybe even C of our seeding plan…I have the feeling there will be a lot of acres seeded to barley this year with farmers anticipating a shorter growing season, highlighted by the adventure of getting stuck in wet fields.

We just need to continue to be patient, spring is coming and before we know it the sun will be shining.

Drifts so high you can barely see our yard from the house.

Drifts so high you can barely see our yard from the house.

In the meantime, I’m going to grow a beard and build an ark.  I think we’ll need it when all of this snow melts!  My friend Kelly has noted that there is an inflatable zodiac propped up against their garage wall.  A bit of foreshadowing perhaps?

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” – Hal Borland





Wintering Honey Bees in Alberta

This has been our first winter of keeping honey bees on the farm. As with the rest of our first year, there has been a lot to learn, and the bees’ resiliency never ceases to amaze us.

We started preparing the bees for winter by leaving approximately 40 lbs of honey in the brood boxes to feed them through the winter. Along with those 40 lbs of honey, we also filled a frame feeder with sugar syrup to help supplement the bees’ feed source.

We felt that this would be enough feed to keep the colony healthy through the winter, now we needed to consider a way to keep them warm.

After doing a bit of reading, we asked other, more experienced bee keepers about their wintering plans. We found that very few bee keepers in our area move their bees indoors for the winter. Studies show that even when it is           -40C outside, a bee colony will cluster around their queen when the temperature drops, and the middle of that cluster will be +35C, which is definitely warm enough to keep the colony healthy.

After buying Styrofoam insulation to cut to the exact specifications of the hive, winter snuck up on us quickly, and almost overnight the snow was falling. We had to improvise from our perfect plan to something that would work temporarily until we had time to cut our Styrofoam.

We wrapped the hive with silver bubble wrap insulation, cutting holes to keep the top and bottom entrances open. We have been told by other bee keepers that it is very important to keep the top entrance open to prevent the hive from getting too humid. Humidity is very dangerous to the health of a honeybee colony. Some of the reports we have read indicate that humidity is a bigger concern when wintering bees than temperature is.

The hive wrapped in silver bubble wrap for winter.

The hive wrapped in silver bubble wrap for winter.

Our intention was to leave the bubble wrap insulation on until this premature – October 18 – snowfall melted away, after which we would install our perfectly measured and cut insulation. As those of us from the Lloydminster area know, that premature October snow stayed, and is still here now, in April….with another blizzard in the forecast for this weekend!

The bubble wrap has worked beautifully. We have taken the ski-doo out to our bee site many times this winter, and we were always happy to see a nicely wrapped hive with one or two dead bees laying outside the entrance. A few dead bees outside the hive must mean live bees inside, because bees clean up their hive and will carry any dead bees out.

A little dead bee outside the hive entrance.  Hopefully this is a good sign of life inside the hive.

A little dead bee outside the hive entrance. Hopefully this is a good sign of life inside the hive.

A week ago, April 7, we visited the bees, and found that they were flying in and out of the hive for cleansing flights. It was very strange to be sitting in the snow in negative temperatures, listening to the buzz of bees flying overhead!

The chickadees must have heard the buzzing also, and were acting like fuzzy little vultures sitting on top of the hive just waiting for a bee to fall into the snow, unable to make the flight back inside. When a bee would fall, they would swoop down and eat it! It was like watching ‘The Nature of Things’ only instead of lions and wildebeest it was chickadees and bumble bees.

Don't let this innocent looking chickadee fool you...she's just waiting to pounce on my poor little unsuspecting honeybees!

Don’t let this innocent looking chickadee fool you…she’s just waiting to pounce on my poor little unsuspecting honeybees!

We decided, after watching all of that ‘birds and bees’ action, that the hive appeared to be thriving. We would top up their sugar syrup feeder to make sure there would be enough food until the flowers start to bloom. Which at this rate might be July!

Here is what we found…

A swarm of bees in a warm winter hive....all wondering who left the door open!

A swarm of bees in a warm winter hive….all wondering who left the door open!

Bees which appear to be healthy and clustered in a swarm, presumably surrounding the queen.

The top of the swarm was clinging to the inside of the inner cover, but this colony has always done that. I’m not sure if it’s normal or not.

The rest of the swarm is clinging to the inner cover.

The rest of the swarm is clinging to the inner cover.

We quickly topped up their frame feeder and closed the hive again to avoid getting them too chilled.

Our very quick hive check let us know a few things
A. There are a lot of live bees in the hive.
B. The bees are active
C. They still have frames of capped honey in the hive that they haven’t eaten yet, so food supply isn’t a problem at this time And…
D. My bee suit over my snow suit makes me look fat.

Does this suit make me look fat?

Does this suit make me look fat?

We are very happy with the bees’ success over the winter, and we are hoping that the weather will soon start to warm up so that the flowers can bloom and we can move forward with year two of beekeeping!

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsh


Lessons in Obedience…and Humility

German Shepherd Pup quote

As some of you may be aware…I think I’m pretty smart. That’s because I AM pretty smart. Especially when it comes to certain things. Things like animal health, and training animals…but most especially about training German Shepherd dogs. I’m sorry, kind of bragging here….but I rock at that!

…which is probably why this happened…

We breed registered German Shepherds….occasionally.  Like two litters in the last 12 years kind of occasionally. We have always owned them and generally speaking, with the exception of our first dog, who we allowed to become a freak show, they have all been beautiful and well-behaved.

I enjoy walking our dogs in town at the park, just to show off how well-behaved and approachable they are. We send our puppies to their new homes with a complete handout of my own training tips, which I follow up with phone calls to check on their progress with their new families.

I watch Caesar Millan (the dog whisperer), mainly for the opportunity to scoff at and feel superior to the people who are having issues with their dogs.

People stop me to comment on how well trained and lovely all of our dogs are. I know and have experienced first hand the German shepherds who are not well trained. At best they are a handful, at worst they are dangerous, and overall they give a bad reputation to a breed who should be known for their intelligence and loyalty. Our aim is to breed healthy, well balanced dogs that can show people how amazing German Shepherds are.

Lola - our perfect 'Mom dog'

Lola – our perfect ‘Mom dog’

One of my favorite phrases is “when training a German Shepherd, just write what you want them to do on a sticky note and put it on the fridge.  When you come home they will have done it.”

And all of these reasons are why ‘Ruby’ happened to me. 

‘Ruby’ is the reason that we had our last two litters. I was looking for our perfect next dog. Being something of a control freak, we can’t just buy our next dog; I have to make her myself. After finding the perfect ‘Dad dog’ to breed to our perfect ‘Mom dog’, we would have our perfect next dog.  And from a litter of seven, we chose ‘Ruby’.

The perfect 'Dad Dog'

The perfect ‘Dad Dog’

Ruby came to teach me a few things. She began by teaching me that I don’t know everything.  Every now and again I start to forget that I’m not Gods gift to all things German Shepherd, but don’t worry….my new teacher steps right up almost daily to remind me that I still have some room for improvement.

We decided that it was a good idea for Ruby to go to obedience class. She is only 3 months old, so it’s very simple stuff. A type of ‘puppy kindergarten’, no problem at all. We really didn’t need the class; we thought that she should go so she could be socialized, but mainly so that others would have the opportunity to lay their eyes on a highly trained, obviously superior puppy.

And of course….I told people that. 

Ruby's brother who is NOT chewing on the deck in this photo.

Ruby’s brother who is NOT chewing on the deck in this photo.

We practiced with Ruby so that she would have already achieved perfection with the sit and down commands. We practiced walking on a leash. We practiced our eye contact and our recall. No problems at all. I even told our obedience teacher that she should prepare to be very impressed with Ruby.

I imagined all of the faces of the other puppy owners looking in awe at my superior dog. I imagined us being ‘bumped ahead’ in obedience classes, and joining the adult advanced group. I looked forward to all of the help I would be able to offer the other puppy owners who would be trying to get their puppy to sit for the first time. I was prepared to offer my dog training skills and advice to everyone.

One’s big, fat ego can be a troubling thing don’t you think?

There are some things that I hadn’t thought of – Ruby’s extreme motion sickness for one. A crate would have been a great way to transport a puppy to her first obedience class, but my Ruby was so well behaved that I knew she would be fine just sitting in the back. The barfing started before we were at the end of our lane way, and rarely did it stop during our 20 minute drive to town.

Another thing I hadn’t counted on was the fact that Ruby had never seen dogs that weren’t German Shepherds before. As she leapt from the jeep, her eyes locked with the eyes of a little, pure white dog….who was wearing boots….another thing she had never seen, and this was not going to be good.

Well … Ruby just had to get a closer look at that!  Jumping and yanking on her leash, walking forward on only her hind legs, propelling me ahead on the icy pavement with no control at all, she got a good look at the little white thing that was wearing boots. She was pretty sure that this little white thing wearing boots would love to play, and have her jump all over it.  Thankfully, I was able to plant my feet and yank her 35 pounds of exuberance back towards me before she had the chance to wipe her dirty farm feet (which have never seen boots), all over that pretty little white dog.

The rest of the class was a continuation of the same idea. My perfect dog who could sit, stay and lie down at home, had now never heard a command before in her life. She had obviously never seen a leash before, she didn’t know ‘sit’ or ‘lay down’, she didn’t know her own name, and she definitely had no idea of who I was.

I had a one hour workout of being dragged behind a maniacal pup who wanted to play with everyone. Other pups were cowering between their owners’ legs, trying to adjust to this new environment, and I really wished my dog would give me a break and just do a bit of cowering. Her leash was wrapped around my hand five or six times and was pulled so tight that I was sure my fingertips were about to pop off.

As the class ended, our instructor opened the door so we could leave. We had to walk through the ‘advanced class’ to get outside. Great! Here were 20 more friends for Ruby to launch me towards!

A man, whose adult dog was sitting placidly on a mat beside him, laughed out loud at me as I tried to maintain a sense of dignity while taking much larger than natural strides behind a 35 pound pup who was blissfully launching herself toward every fun new thing she could see.  He offered some advice, and told me not to give up on her, that German Shepherds were sometimes a handful.  I bit my tongue, and smiled my insincere gratitude at him as I was unceremoniously dragged towards Ruby’s newest conquest.

Our little Ruby

Our little Ruby

Ruby’s teacher laughed and said, Terra you will be amazed at how much she will improve as the weeks go by.  Positive thoughts…positive thoughts…

It stuns me when I remember a few months ago; I told Kelly that I would probably blog about how to raise a highly functioning German Shepherd. I thought it was only right that I share with the world my experiences and expertise.

Well now that Ruby has happened to me, I still plan to blog about our adventures in training, but lets change the title to something a bit more comedic….

How about ‘Lessons in humility by Ruby’…“The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him, and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.” – Samuel Butler




Canola Oil, right up there with olive oil

canola pix

It is common to hear the health benefits of olive oil, but we don’t hear as much about our locally produced canola oil. According to the Canola Council, favorable results were recently released at the American Heart Association’s 2013 Scientific Session in New Orleans. Canola and high-oleic canola oils can lower abdominal fat when used in place of other selected oil blends in a heart-healthy diet for weight maintenance. “The study of American and Canadian adults at risk for metabolic syndrome shows that consuming certain vegetable oils may be a simple way of reducing their risk of this medical condition, which affects about one in three U.S. adults and one in five Canadian adults,” reports the Canola Council. It is apparently the monounsaturated fat that is responsible for the benefits. Like olive oil, it is very low in saturated fats. It contains linoleic (omega-6) and α-linolenic acid (omega-3) essential fatty acids at 2:1. This makes it one of the healthiest cooking oils at a ratio even better than olive oil. It is also high in plant sterols and the anti-oxidant vitamin E. The study was led by the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

– Kelly

“Reducing abdominal fat is one way that dietary MUFA may decrease metabolic syndrome risk factors,” says Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., professor of nutrition at the Pennsylvania State University.