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It may seem late in the season to be posting about gardening, but due to it being an El Niño year, the weather has been ridiculously nice, so I only finished reaping this last week.

It was a fantastic year. As usual, I filled our freezers with our entire apple and carrot harvest, turning one into apple sauce and the other, chopping and blanching so everything stays fresh-tasting. With our ton of beets, I ended up making many cauldrons of borscht and dehydrating the rest for future cauldrons.

But the real star of this year’s garden was our vertically-grown sugar pumpkins. I tell you, I will never grow them any other way. They grew quicker and ripened faster than growing them on the ground and even from a small area, I got as much as from ten times the garden area I used last year. And delicious? I don’t even know where to start. These are by far the best pumpkins I’ve ever grown.

Two things have really added to our self-sufficiency. This year, for the first time, I have not had to buy any chicken or beef stock in the store. I go through about four litres of stock a week, but all of it has been homemade from our own chicken and beef bones.

Since my big garden has been prone to flooding we bought a couple of young pigs in the spring to dig it up. Sadly, the heritage breed ones we bought were eaten by coyotes before we could pick them up from the neighbor’s place, so we had to settle from some weird non-digging variety. They were incredibly cute and even tempered, but all they did for my garden was eat the top layer of grass and poop everywhere.

Regardless, they came back from the butcher about a week ago. I had consistently suffered from insomnia from eating store-bought pork, so I was anxious to see if I had the same reaction with home grown. The first thing I tried was the breakfast sausages. They were pretty boring, taste- and texture-wise, so I was not encouraged. But when we tried the bacon… holy god… it was unbelievably good. I kid you not, it tasted like buttered toast. The neighbor, to whom I had given a box of meat, phoned the next day to say it was the best pork she had eaten in a very long time. Both she and my step-daughter had found their bodies stank after eating store-bought pork, so they’d both given up buying it. N0ra bumped into a vet at work a couple of days later and asked about a possible cause. The best guess: “Well,” she said, “they feed swine an awful lot of canola oil. It could be that.” Having seen how much pesticides and herbicides get sprayed on the canola down the road from here, I would not be surprised if that’s the cause. Anyway, I am happy to report no insomnia or body odor resulting from my pork. Only jubilant grins and sighs of bacon-sated happiness.

Since the piggies were in my big garden, I had built some more raised beds in the back yard, so that this year I had a total of six. Each was 4′ by 8′. And I tell you, I am loth to go back to growing stuff in the cold ground. Raised beds are so much more productive, so much easier to seed, weed and water.

We were all set to get into milking our cows this summer, but again, as a result of good old El Niño, the price of winter hay made that prospect impractical. We bought a milking machine and everything! We ended up selling the machine and all but one heifer. Having our own milk would have fulfilled the last 20% of our food production. It was an exciting prospect, but it was not to be. At least not this year.

Nonetheless, it was a fantastic summer. Onions, garlic, carrots, beets, pumpkin, apples and strawberries in the back yard and chickens, turkeys, cows and pigs in the front. We’re actually good at this now. I can’t wait for next year.