Wednesday 5 September 2012

Back Forty Living in the Lanark Highlands

A while back it was mentioned here that I became a scout bee this spring and left the hive and Hamilton and moved to the country in Eastern Ontario. I thought I would pop in and give a little tour of where we live and what we've been up to these past few months.

Tucked back in the woods in the Lanark Highlands, an hour west of Ottawa, is our little board and batten house.  Originally built in 1867, it's now renovated into a cozy open concept home with a little loft and a wood stove.  When we first moved here it felt like we were at a cottage, and some days, especially when we have a fire on outside and it smells like summer camp, it still does. But most of the time it feels like home and we can't believe we've only lived here four short months. 

We have a few acres of forest, where we have been chipping away at building trails, and a few acres of field, which are now filled with goldenrod that I hope to harvest soon for dyeing. There are a few dozen apple trees, lots of wild berry bushes, and a couple little ponds where our dog swims everyday.  The land behind us is mostly hay fields, with nothing on it but old barns.  We walk the fields daily and often try to time it for when we can see some of the most amazing evening skies. Between the sunsets and the storm clouds it's pretty great how much of the weather and the sky we can see out here.

With fall on it's way were preparing for winter. We're canning all our vegetables, stacking wood. It's that kind of work that takes labour and time and we don't really mind because there's something nice about readying yourself and your home for a new season.

When we first moved here one of the first things we did was put in a garden. There had been sheep on this land for over ten years so we were pretty confident we had good soil but since this was our first vegetable garden we didn't want to bite off too much. We kept the garden small enough to manage as beginners, but big enough so we would have a nice selection of veggies to eat and preserve this year. At first it was cute. I laid hay on the rows and made trellises with found sticks.

But everything grew so well that many of the supports didn't hold, plants went horizontal, and we can barely walk down the rows anymore. We've learned a lot from this first garden and now that we know how well things will grow we have plans for an even bigger one next year.

The garden sits between the house and the old sheep barn, which we have converted to a studio for my screen printing business. It's bright and airy and really is a special place to work.  I often head out with a coffee first thing in the morning as the sun is rising. I'm finding it such a nice creative time of day. I used to really like having the studio separate from my home, but I am really starting to appreciate this new set up and being able to easily work early morning or late into the evening if I want to.

Having my husband, Jeff, working from home too makes it that much better. Along with the farm we also took over a cheese making business called Back Forty Artisan Cheese. Jeff apprenticed with the previous owner over the winter, learning the recipes and tricks of the trade and he is now a full time Cheese maker, creating raw sheep’s milk cheese in the commercial kitchen off the side of our house.  
 He makes four different kinds of cheese. The Highland Blue is a milder blue cheese with a nice buttery flavor. I never even used to like blue cheese until this one. It is so good. The Bonnechere is semi-firm with a toasted rind- he actually torches the rind with a flame.

He also makes a feta and a white rind cheese called Madawaska, which is slightly creamy under the rind and chalky in the centre. It is my favourite cheese in the world. It's pretty amazing always having such yummy cheese on hand. We've had lots of visitors this summer, including a few of the Bees, and each time the one thing we know we'll definitely be serving is a cheese plate. No one seems to mind.

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