Category Archives: In the Garden

Merlins High & Low

I’ve had a fascination with falcons since childhood, when I first learned about the art of falconry, and have always thought it would be the most glorious thing ever to have my very own falcon to take flight from, and return to, my gloved hand.

Sadly, though understandably, there are laws that prevent me from keeping a falcon, however, for a few months now, I have had my own falcons, sort of, as a pair of merlins came to nest this spring atop the 60-foot spruce tree at the back of our yard!

Merlins are small falcons, beautiful birds, whose urban population is on the increase, especially here in the Ottawa area. We’ve spent the last few months watching and listening to the rather noisy comings and goings of our resident raptors and were fairly certain in recent days, though hard to know, that there were babies in the nest.

Our suspicions were confirmed yesterday morning when I discovered a juvenile merlin perched just inches off the ground, on a rock under our apple tree. I started to approach, gingerly, so as not to alarm him (it just seemed like a ‘him’) but decided to wait and watch for a bit and went back inside, where I could watch from the kitchen window. When he continued to do nothing, even with his family calling overhead, I went back out armed with a towel and a laundry basket.

It took little to toss the towel over him and scoop him into the basket. I put the basket on the deck in hope that a parent would see him and somehow help him back up where he belonged but it became clear that was not going to happen and so the decision was made to take him out to the Wild Bird Care Centre, where they do marvelous work rehabilitating injured birds and returning them to the wild whenever possible.

Back out in the yard, we had been watching to make sure our poor little guy did not fall prey to a cat or a crow. The neighbourhood is full of crows and we had seen them harass the merlins on several occasions. There they were again, and it was soon clear why – another juvenile, unquestionable a sibling to the poor thing in the basket, was flitting amongst the mid-branches of the spruce tree and two crows were acting as a tag-team against the merlins. Action was needed!

Enter the slingshot, hastily retrieved from the basement. My son managed some well-placed shots that drove off one crow but the other swooped in on Young Merlin in the tree. He took off in an erratic flight – fear, ineptitude or perhaps both – and the crow took a strike. Downy feathers rained from the sky but Young Merlin flew on and disappeared into the maple trees across the street. Mother Merlin gave frantic calls but Young Merlin remained out of sight. But Poor Baby, in the basket, needed attention and eventually we had to hope for the best for Young Merlin and move on.

Poor Baby was silent and still on the drive to the care centre. Once there, they conducted a preliminary examination and said he didn’t look good, but gave us a reference number we could use to call and receive status reports on our bird. We were happy to hear that if he recovered enough to qualify for release, we would be able to pick him up and bring him home for release in our yard! We made a contribution to their donation box and left him in their expert care.

We watched throughout the afternoon and evening as Mother Merlin spent most of her time sitting like a sentinel on the same top-most branch of the tree, calling now and then but receiving only silence in return. It was a sad sight.

And then, this morning, I saw Young Merlin back on the lower branches of his home tree! He called as he fluttered between branches, while Mother Merlin sat in her usual spot high aloft, no longer such a sorry sight.

I came back in and phoned the Wild Bird Care Centre for a status report. Sadly, Poor Baby didn’t make it beyond early this morning.

The slingshot sits ready at the back door and we will be watching, ready to help if we can, as Young Merlin loses his last bits of baby fluff and gets good enough at flying to better fend for himself.

And I will continue to imagine, though a dream is all it will ever be, how cool it would be to raise my arm to the sky and have a falcon swoop in for a landing …

* * *

If you live in or near Ottawa, visit the Wild Bird Care Centre (on Moodie Drive, in Nepean) to see the birds they are continually helping. Please be sure to put what you can in the donation box on your way out – the work these volunteers do is amazing and the need for supplies is never-ending.

Side-tracked Again

We’ve been insanely busy!

I’d hoped to be posting about more progress on the Albacore but we sort of leapt without looking … right into a pool!

Just a few things left to do ...

What started as a benign comment (“Hey, wouldn’t it be nice …”) while browsing on-line progressed to “Wanna go look at pools?” one day not so long ago while driving by the store. In short order, we ended up with a pool … but also a mountain of red tape, regulations and permit requirements about satisfactory pool enclosure. This meant that the minute the installers left, we had to get busy building a pool railing and deck, due to the fact that it’s an above-ground pool.

Why above-ground? The astronomical cost of an in-ground just wasn’t worth it to us, given our short summers and the fact that, in our region, they are often a detriment when trying to sell a house. We’re not planning on it at this point but you never know down the road …

My main reservation about above-grounds was that they’re so often badly-placed unadorned beacons of ugliness, so we plan to deck and landscape (that one’s next year – I need a break!!) in a way that blends it nicely into the yard. I think we’ve made a good start.

We went with a 54-inch high, 24-foot diameter heated saltwater pool, tucked well back in the yard, and left the big maple tree … though I know we’ll curse it once autumn leaves start dropping in the pool. Perhaps some judicious pruning?

Anyway, after a week and a half of non-stop sweat and toil, the light at the end of the tunnel is growing stronger and I finally had my first swim yesterday – ahhhhhhhhhh!

Renovation, Restoration, Sailing & Garden Salvation

Blogging slipped off my radar in recent months so it’s catch-up time …

Some major things happenings in the last while (apart from the day job, which has been INSANELY busy!) are –

Keelboat sailing lessons – now complete
Front hall renovations – almost complete
Albacore sailboat restoration – just begun

The keelboat lessons, somewhat inspired by the sea-faring voyages of Mike Perham, Jessica Watson, the Bounty Boat and the much-overlooked Alessandro di Benedetto (still out there), were a lot of fun! Though now inflamed with a burning desire to rush off and buy a keelboat, this is not the right time, however, I’ve still managed to spend countless hours looking on-line at boats ads and I’m convinced a nice little 26-footer is in my future. In the meantime, I’ll hone my sailing skills in the Albacore (a 16-foot dinghy) … as soon as she’s seaworthy again.

The front hall reno started as a straightforward tiling project, then grew. I’m very pleased with the (almost) finished results and somewhat proud of my new-found skills at tile-laying, bamboo flooring and crown moulding installation!

And then there’s the Albacore …

I knew when I bought her last summer she was a bit of a project boat – I just didn’t realize how much!

Our one-and-only sail last summer highlighted two things; one, I still have a lot to learn about sailing (having only started last year) and, second, there was more to do on the boat than first thought – and hard to know where to begin. Without a garage, the boat ended up parked for the winter in an inaccessible location that meant her restoration was on hold till spring. Spring came and went with too many other demands on our time and so, now back home in the driveway, the boat remained untouched.

I was also just a little daunted by what to do and how to begin but I finally took the plunge a few weeks ago and got started. The next post will be all about the Albacore so check back to see the beginning transformation. Now that I’ve begun, it doesn’t seem so bad – sort of the way it is with most things, the hardest part is getting started …

When life gets too busy, something gets relegated to the back seat and, sadly, it was the garden. I bought two tomato plants (I had grown my own seedlings last year) and then left them sitting in their tiny pots for weeks … finally planting them only last weekend!!

Those two poor tomato plants looked so pathetically lonely in their 4 x 4 raised bed but then I remembered the pack of scarlet runner beans I bought years ago. I found it, along with a pack of nasturtium seeds, and shoved some of each into the ground. And guess what? Bean plants, now about 4 inches high after just 8 days and the nasturtiums are poking up too! I may just salvage something out of this growing season!!

So stay tuned – more on boat restoration, home renovation and garden salvation to follow …

Winter Prep

In recent years, fall seems to fly by, fast, furious and all too fleeting. Seems like yesterday was August and now we’re just days from December.

This fall has seemed even more jammed than usual and much of it my own doing – some, like the cider, were born of interest and some, like the porch, of sheer necessity.

The upper part of the porch is now (mostly) complete and looks way better than before! Though I’d really like to have been able to get it all done, the weather was becoming a threat.

The underside is still unfinished wood simply because we couldn’t decide whether to stain it before applying the polyurethane.

The exterior paint job was completed a few days ago. We worried it might freeze before it dried but the fine print said that it was good at temps as low as 2 degrees Celcius and, thankfully, dry it did. Just one coat, but it’s better weather protection than none. The colour was chosen to blend with the house brick but I’m thinking it’s just too … meh … so the second-coat colour may change – we have all winter to ponder it.

What’s left? The pillar-cladding and some sort of cap on the brick knee-wall (which I’d love to remove but I was out-voted). Oh, and a trap-door to access the plug for the roof heating cable.

We’ll take the winter to plan the rest and make parts so that what’s left is quick and easy in the spring.

And the cider – it’ll get a second racking this weekend and then I’ll assess the whole bottling business. It’s actually smelling pretty good!

We’ve had a flurry of activity in the last few weeks to get all kinds of things done before the snow hits:

Raked leaves – thirty bags full!
Swapped the contents of two sheds – we do this each spring and fall; the shed close to the laneway holds the necessities for the current or upcoming season and the one tucked away on the other side of the house contains off-season and seldom-used stuff (I’d kill for a garage! Some day …).
Bought and installed brackets – one set to hold the ladder and another set for the sailboat mast.
Planted shrubs … that were bought back in September (yeah, I know …).

And this weekend will kick off the Holiday season, way too early to suit me but a necessity in some regards. Life is just easier if you get the outdoor seasonal lights up before the cold, ice and snow arrive and the end of November is actually late to be doing it around here. I’m not bothered in the least though that it’s still green outside!

I also get to bake eight dozen cookies this weekend, for an exchange I take part in annually. We’ve been at it for more than five years now and it seems to take place earlier each year, as it becomes harder and harder to find a date that works for everyone later into December.

Guess I’d better go figure out what to bake – tune in again to see the end result!

Cute as a … bunny!

I rediscovered this little guy yesterday while doing some yard cleanup. He was given to the kids by their grandfather years ago and I think he’s improved tremendously with age – he’s actually kind of cute now!
He was hiding under a plant but I thought he looked better on the mantle of the wood-fired oven.

I have an Elbe!

I have a Yellow Elbe tomato – finally!
I also have a cold – bleh.

The good thing is, the Elbe won’t be ripe for a few more days so maybe I’ll have functioning tastebuds by then.

Tomato time is waning here, as their numbers dwindle, the days get colder and slugs attack at the lower levels. That’s okay though – I don’t mind sharing a few and, at this point in the fall, it feels like time to move on to other things. But I’ve promised my daughter we’ll try cooking fried green tomatoes while we still have some and hope to make it happen later in the week.

Right now, though?
Time to find another kleenex …

Flowering Quince Jelly with Apple

Quince 2_Sill
Eyeing my three flowering quince fruits this morning – my entire harvest, softened as they should after sitting for days on the windowsill – I decided it was time to experiment! I was curious, not having tried these before. There aren’t too many jam or jelly recipes for such small quantities so I decided just to draw on past experience and hope for the best … and am pretty pleased with the result!

Flowering Quince Jelly with Apple
Flowering Quince Jelly with Apple

1. Wash three flowering quinces well, cut fruit into quarters, de-seed and slice them thinly.
2. Place slices in a pot; add 3/4 cup sugar and approximately 2 cups water.
3. Bring to a boil; continue boiling for 15 minutes.
4. Place a strainer lined with cheesecloth (4 layers) over a bowl; pour boiled fruit and liquid into the strainer, draw all four corners of the cloth up together to form a bag and then tie a length of string around the cloth bag.
6. Suspend the bag (from an upper kitchen cupboard doorknob) over the bowl of liquid; when cool enough to handle, twist and squeeze the bag to force any remaining juice and pectin out and into the bowl.
7. Discard the bag of pulp and return the strained liquid to the pot.
8. Peel and thinly slice a medium apple; add slices to the pot and bring mixture back to a boil.
9. Add sugar to taste (about 1/4 cup – those F.Q.’s are tart!) and boil 10 minutes, approximately, stirring gently and watching carefully, until the apple slices are nearly transparent.
10. Remove from heat, skim off foam and pour, while hot, into a sterile container.

I ended up with about a cup of jelly. It’s very tart with an apple-like flavour that was there even before the apple was added. It’s not unlike a crabapple jelly in sharpness and I find it delicious!

I wasn’t sure how long to boil it since I wasn’t following a recipe and wasn’t sure how it would set, however, if anything, I boiled it down a bit too much because the end product has set up very firm!
(I went with 15 minutes at step 9, and so I have adjusted the time in the recipe above.)

Flowering Quince PlantQuince 3_Cut
I didn’t bother to cap and process my one jar in a sterile manner since I plan to use it soon – I think it would be great with roast pork or poultry, or on cheese and crackers.

I’m glad I bought that little flowering quince shrub this summer. Hope next year’s harvest is even bigger!

Note: I had thought these fruits were a quince but learned later that the flowering quince is not simply a quince variety, but a completely different species of fruit altogether. I still have no idea whether the flavour of the two are similar or entirely different from each other.