Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cheesy farewell to Toronto

I was thinking it would be nice to take some Eastern cheeses back west with me, and when I asked about cheese shops, Sandra suggested Nancy's Cheese on Dupont at Spadina. I duly sweltered along there in the late morning heat of departure day, and was able to take a good long look at the current offerings while Nancy set up an order for someone's cheese tasting party.

I was pleased to see the cheese selection was relatively modest

- decision-making is hard enough - and Nancy

was generous with the samples and her knowledge.

It was mostly Ontario and Quebec cheese - just what I was after - plus a few well-chosen foreigners (Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gruyère, Brie de Meaux (raw milk brie), Aged Beemster).

Here's some Bleu Bénédictin

which I didn't buy, but I came away with a good and interesting selection:

Bleu D’Elizabeth (Quebec); Avonlea Cloth Bound Cheddar (PEI); Le 1608 (Quebec); Île-aux-Grues 2 Year Old Cheddar (Quebec); Cape Vessey (Ontario - washed-rind aged goat cheese which I encountered at its orgins in Picton County last year); Paradiso (Ontario - sheep's milk cheese).

I like the informative labels and look forward to sharing...


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wychwood & more TWUC

Managed to fit a flying visit to the Wychwood BarnsFarmers Market in before the Writers Union meeting plenary on Saturday. It opens at 8 for the summer season. Another misty morning

but enough vendors and a steady stream of custom that showed it to be a healthy neighbourhood market. Lots of variety: local honey, wool, assorted wild foods from around the country - including maple syrup, dried wild mushrooms (from BC), saskatoons (from Saskatchewan), wild rice, ocal fresh ramps (wild leeks)

and exotic pickles (like spruce tips and cattail hearts). And produce of course, including some spectacular Ontario apples,

sweet potatoes (I think he said the variety was Bordeaux, not the Georgia Jet I'm growing in 5 gallon pails this year),


and some fine vegetables

including a couple of beautiful winter roots, both of which I'll be planting again this year myself:

It's a well organized market, which operates year round thanks to the shelter of the barns. There's a sensible scheme for the bakers, which keeps them well under cover while the other vendors are under tents:

Then I sprinted off to catch a streetcar and a subway and settle in to a good day's politicking with the writers. Copyright was the most active topic. Passion on both sides of the discussion, which had to do with the manner in which copyright fees are distributed to creative artists. It could have been a long-winded and ugly discussion, but chair Alan Cumyn managed to guide the concise and respectful speakers through to the vote with a firm and friendly hand. It was a great meeting, after which the writers passed a couple of free hours gearing up for the banquet and short readings and presentation of the Danuta Gleed award (to Billie Livingston for Greedy Little Eyes). And then it was time for 3 Chord Johnny

to bring it on home: great stuff, not least because the musicians are all writers. We danced our feets off and then were regaled for an hour or so by a rogue fire alarm which attracted a swarm of fire engines and slowed the ascent to the after party.

Today's meeting, in which the gavel was handed over to incoming chair Greg Hollingshead,

was a peaceable wrap-up with elections and farewells.. until next year in Vancouver.

Friday, May 27, 2011

TWUC 2011

Like anyone with that ominous birthday on the horizon, I'd say the Writers Union of Canada approaches its fortieth (2012) with a year-before do in Toronto that combines about the right mix of congeniality, information overload, anxiety and a drop or a bite too much to drink or eat.

Today was the day of workshops, also known of the day of impossible choices. The sessions were recorded, so it should be possible to catch up later with what I missed. We had the relative novelty of a book table this year

for the first time in several years. It seems to be going well.

The Public Lending Right session offered some ominous rumblings about the fate of this 25 year old institution that's put a few bucks in the pockets of Canadian writers whose books are in the holdings of Canadian libraries. It's at risk now because of digital publishing - which could drain the system dry if it tries to compensate authors of with new or repurposed electronic titles (not currently included) at a time when PLR funds have already ebbed away to half the per capita amounts enjoyed 25 years ago, due to lack of new moneys to meet the influx of new print titles to the funding pool. Though its cheques are shrinking, they're incredibly valuable to writers living on marginal incomes; but its future, like other federal spending initiatives, could well be at risk with promised funding cuts coming from a government whose commitment to culture is, shall we say, unclear. And the whole digital rights question is, in the words of panelist Michael Elcock, the “kind of thing that turns your brain to porridge”.

We replenished ours with a break and then returned to porridge country in the New Gatekeepers session, which was more about epublishing and emarketing. Much of the discussion batted around the relevance of publishers (which pay about 10% in conventional royalties, or if you're lucky some 25% in erights) versus self-publishing or self-representation through the likes of Kobo or Smashwords (where you'd get as much as 70% - but potentially then have to shell out for the kinds of services publishers usually handle: editorial and marketing and administrative). Mention was made of interesting innovations like Cellstories, which publishes short fiction, or Kickstarter, which allows artists to pitch ideas and raise money to carry their projects out; and publisher ECW was there talking about its digital arm, Joyland, which takes only erights, leaving writers free to seek out print publishers separately (or not at all) and is looking into subscription publishing which would allow it to publish up to three such titles a year.

Thus boggled, we briefly emerged to lunch on bi-bim-bap and returned to hear about The New Realities of Book Publishing, which were - you guessed it - largely about epublishing and emarketing. One independent bookseller held out against the flow of chat about blogging and tweeting and social networking to argue that there was still a place for a good bookstore owned and staffed by people who read and love books and can serve customers who do likewise. In support of this, one of the few under-forties writers at the meeting -a teacher - described bibliomania days where her grade 5 and 6 students wore pyjamas to school and lay around reading books all day - a wildly popular program!

Some seriously calorific treats helped us leap the mid-afternoon slump and make it through The Writer as Promoter (Or, Who Has Time to Write) (or, as a panelist quipped, Shouldn't My Publisher Be Doing This). Wherein there was more chat about blogging and tweeting and social networks. Cassandra Sadek, the director of online marketing for Random House, said that publishers should be guiding authors in building their online presence, and using that to allow readers to be their "brand ambassadors". Author Cathy Marie Buchanan features a little tutorial about skyping on her website so that she can use it to speak virtually to book club meetings, and also gives live chats on GoodReads (a good place for fiction writers, apparently). Resident curmudgeon Russell Smith was left to object to the idea of thinking like a marketer which he said would mean commoditizing one's own writing and aiming it to please a target audience rather than writing for writing's sake: “I also don't like the idea of “brand”" he said: "I don't want 'brand ambassadors for a product' I want 'readers for my novel'."

Then after a swift round of regional meetings it was time to forage for supper. The Pilot pub

may have literary cred, but it was full and noisy on a Friday night so we opted for the quieter confines of the Coffee Mill, which Myrna says is a long-lived Hungarian restaurant, which offered a fair spinach pie

that fueled me for the Margaret Laurence Lecture, introduced by outgoing union chair Alan Cumyn

in which Graeme Gibson

spoke on A Writer's Life. It was an entertaining tour through his travels in Europe and his beginnings as a novelist, which were as bumbling as any, but distinguished by dedication that still sees him writing some 40 years after his first novel was published. He was also one of the founders of the union, so a description of its humble beginnings rounded out his talk.

And more there will be tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Haliburton spring

All is well at Haliburton Farm, although cold, wet weather makes for slow growing. Unless you are a lettuce in Farmer Ray's greenhouse of course:

One hates to think what size they'd be if he ever started using artificial fertilizer...

Gord Hutchings' bee barn is humming with blue orchard mason bees, who are laying eggs while the sun shines. Which is about one day in ten at the moment.

Lovely greens.. that are not green.

New plantings this year include kiwi, just starting to leaf. It should start fruiting next year, if it likes the climate on the farm.

Seedlings loaded in the growing cupboard:

In the greenhouse, a lot of plant starts, some of them for sale on the farm stand and at the various markets and plant sales.

Greens and salads

are popular sellers at the moment. All harvested

and washed and packed by hand, of course.

Cold frames

and row covers

and greenhouses large and small are getting a good workout until it warms up:

Haliburton pest control officer:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Whole lotta fruit trees

Fruit Trees & More attracts as many visitors as bees, it seems. Bob Duncan

is generous with his time and knowledge in showing countless numbers of fruit aficionados around his demonstration orchard. He's a retired entomologist who spends his winters scouting for frost-resistant fruit trees that might grow here on Vancouver Island. The Fruit Tree Project had a fund-raising outing there last weekend. We started with some basics on pruning fig trees.

The principle, says Bob, is to cut back the 2 year old branches and leave the thin, year-old ones to hang fruit on. The older branches just keep growing outward, so the tree becomes large and unwieldy. He says the fig is an ideal tree for Victoria as it has no pests or diseases and needs little water or attention; they have two crops a year in hotter climates, so you need a variety that bears a heavy first crop, since the second won't ripen here. It can be grown in containers as well, but whether in ground or pot needs to be pruned to grow from two or three stout stems.

One of the attention-getting features of Bob's home is the lemon tree growing under a glass shelter against the south-facing front wall. Acidic citrus fruits like lemons and limes don't need the heat that sweet ones (oranges, grapefruit) need to set fruit. Though the trees are hardy to -7, their fruit freezes at around -3 so he protects them with Christmas lights on thermostats, and wraps them in Reemay if the weather gets colder than that.

Against the west wall, he has an olive tree

which also grows well here, where we are (so far so good) without the olive fly that plagues Mediterranean growers; the fruit is hardy to -5 and the trees evidently survived even this winter's -10 temperatures. His apricots

also need shelter as they're not adapted to wet, humid climates. There was no mistaking the orangerie

where various varieties of oranges

as well as grapefruit

grow year round in an unheated greenhouse, protected like the lemons by Christmas lights on thermostat.

The fruit is left on the tree until it's needed: unlike many other fruits, it doesn't drop when ripe but just goes on getting juicier. He doesn't sell the surplus oranges, unfortunately: you have to buy your own tree - or a jar of his wife Verna's uniquely local marmalade. His kiwis do produce surplus fruit, however, and he promises the fruits are larger and sturdier than imported varieties. He grows them on this pergola

and says if you're planning to do large scale growing you'll need the right proportion of male to female plants for pollination. From a kiwi's point of view, we have a marginal climate, as they need rich, moist soil and sufficient summer heat to ripen the fruit; about one year in six is unsuitable (I'm beginning to suspect this might be one of those..). He says we should watch for orange and red fleshed kiwis, which are about to hit the market.

Apples, those most popular fruits, present in about 200 varieties - many local rarities - and different methods of training and pruning. For most people, this oblique cordon (45 degree angle) which Bob favours

is too complicated to maintain, although it makes for a surprisingly long-producing tree on a dwarf stock, like all his apples. This one gives about 50 apples a year and has been going strong for around 20 years:

and he says they should live for up to 60 years, which is plenty for most people. He calls this the Christmas Tree style, which is easier to maintain:

He has to net the cherries to keep the birds off them when they fruit. Here's a nifty Belgian cordon system he uses (but the "Christmas tree" shape works fine as well):

He warns against the temptation to buy multi-variety trees that garden centres are selling (three different kinds of apples etc.) as most amateur gardeners don't have the ability to manage the differential vigour of such a tree - and you end up wasting money because eventually you otherwise end up with only one viable fruit variety.

Nectarines and peaches can, he said, be grown in the open despite popular ideas to the contrary. It is true they are vulnerable to leaf curl

but he counters that with one application of Bordeaux mix, which is a dormant spray approved for organic growing.

Pineapple guava is an edible evergreen

which needs to be grown under shelter, which unfortunately puts it out of the running for hedging.

We looked at his tea plants as well, and the Chinese "jujube" date, and the avocado (which still hasn't fruited so he won't sell it yet) and a pomegranate that he's grafted with several varieties.. and I swear we didn't see most of the orchard in the two hours we were there. To wrap up, he gave us a fleeting demonstration of his grafting techniques:

Grafted trees having a rest.

Busy bee houses (this orchard must be bee heaven), showing the hatching chambers on the left, where cocoons are placed after being cleaned over the winter: