RD July-August 2015 Letters

Rural schools clobbered
    Chignecto Central Regional School Board’s closure of Maitland, Wentworth, and River John schools (as of June 10) caused resignation and anger: resignation because N.S. Education Minister Karen Casey stated there was no appeal process, although communities were told otherwise; and anger at the betrayal of rural communities.
    Essentially committees of volunteers did the heavy lifting to develop rural hub schools that the board and the department should have done – with all its professional and highly-paid resources, and with information that it gave up only through a freedom of information application. Community volunteers tried to raise funds to repair and operate the schools, although they already pay taxes and the board deliberately delayed building maintenance for years while costs increased. 
    Elected trustees were not allowed to question administrative decisions and the province can’t over-rule the board, which means board administration is accountable to no one.
    It was especially galling that within days of the closure decision, Casey announced that government offices would be installed in schools around the province to create hubs. Recreation project grants were also handed around, while River John lost the school gym, its only indoor rec facility. Local people believe the announcements are symptoms of a turf war rather than cooperation among the provincial departments, and that each works independently to duplicate or undermine each other’s services – and waste money. 
    Studies have verified the high educational value of schooling children in the communities where they live, and raised concerns about the long-term health and emotional impacts of busing them to distant communities, not to mention the economic impacts on rural Nova Scotia. Schools are good employers and few young families move to communities where there are no schools, obviously recognizing what board and department officials don’t. 
     It’s seen as an assault on rural Canada, and people are pushing back.
Monica Graham
Pictou County, N.S.

(Writer Monica Graham’s recent book, “In the Spirit,” was published in May, with a book launch in the River John Consolidated School gymnasium, now shuttered.)

(Meanwhile, writer Janet Wallace (“How to save a school” RD June 2015) reports “mixed success/failure” on the struggle to retain small schools in New Brunswick. “Some schools are kept open, such as the two in my district – Riverside Consolidated and Dorchester – while others are being closed. There is a coalition of the threatened N.B. schools to fight closures but I don’t think much is happening. . . Horrible news about the Nova Scotia schools – especially after such hard work, community support and creativity went into their proposed hubs.” JW)

In the name of efficiency?
RD: As always, I love your magazine. In the April issue, “Pot Luck” mentioned getting a flat tire on a Budget rental and finding there was no spare tire included.
Budget may have removed the spare – but you wouldn’t believe what some customers will steal. It’s also possible that the car never came with one in the first place. In place of a spare, some cars will have run-flat tires, or a can of tire sealant and an inflator. Automakers are under intense pressure to meet ever-tightening federal fuel economy standards, and one way to do that is to reduce weight. Spare tires are heavy, even the small “doughnut” versions, and they cut into fuel efficiency.
    Your new car may get better mileage than your old one, but as they say, be careful what you wish for, for you may get it.
Jil McIntosh
Oshawa, Ontario

Hens that crow
RD: It happened again. I go into my barn in the morning to feed the hens and am greeted as always by my roosters. Two roosters; the third one was killed a week or so earlier. Yet this morning I hear a third rooster compete with the old fellows. Who smuggled a rooster into my barn?
    Checking the coop with roosters and hens still on their roost I get the answer: It’s not a rooster crowing but a plump good looking older hen doing a darn good crowing job. She does the wake up call every morning now together with the old bosses, but seems too embarrassed to crow when outside in the garden. Is this perhaps not unusual as I have had two crowing older hens several years back.
Has anybody else liberated crowing hens?
Mette Bieger
Portugal Cove-St. Philips, Nfld.
For lack of a nail the barn was lost
RD: The stories on building collapses in the April 2015 edition of Rural Delivery prompted this memory of a roof collapse of a hog barn near Edmonton shortly after I became a District Agriculturalist (Ag Rep) with Alberta Agriculture back in the ‘70s.
    Plans for this barn were prepared by the Canadian Farm Building Plan Service, a committee of agricultural engineering specialist from all provinces, the Federal Government, and Agricultural Universities. These farm building plans were customized for each region of the country.
    During a heavy snow storm, the snow load on one side of the hog barn roof caused it to collapse. The farmer came to my office to submit a claim under the Department’s “Disaster Assistance Policy.” The claim was refused under the “Act of God” provision of the policy. Needless to say, this farmer was not happy and placed the blame on the building plan supplied by Alberta Agriculture. All I could do was to have our farm building engineer inspect what was left of the barn.
    The engineer, Dennis Darby, determined that the building contractor did follow the plans provided with one glaring exception – roof truss nails. The contractor used a shorter nail of a different type than what the plans called for.
    The hog building’s roof failed due to one of the five reasons for failure as outlined by the specialist quoted in RD’s articles in the April issue – improper building construction. And by the time of the collapse, the contractor was long gone and out of business.
Dave Ward
Centreville, N.S.

In praise of (raised) asparagus beds
RD: I just noticed the question by Anne Gray in the June edition of RD about growing asparagus in raised beds. Perhaps it has been answered already.
    I have been growing asparagus in raised beds since 1992. I have planted in six locations – but have only eaten out of three. Since 1992 I have planted two new sets of beds and transplanted the roots once to eradicate a noxious weed.
All the benefits of raised beds come along for the ride: softer soil which is easier to weed; easy to maintain a mulch for weeds as the beds are wider than a single row; warm up earlier in the spring; a great modifier of weather conditions – drainage is improved and at the same time moisture is retained in the soil. I do not winter mulch and have not had winter kill here on the Cardigan Bay in eastern P.E.I.
    Weeds are the biggest problem I have – asparagus plants are subject to getting crowded out by Couch grass and others. I mulch with well rotted horse and cow manure compost and then a little straw which the chickens redistribute as they like. I did get some imported weed that caused such a headache that we transplanted all the asparagus and pulled the weed roots out of the clumps. Then the old beds were kept empty for a whole season, periodically forking the soil to get all the sprouting rootlets out. I will never buy compost again!
    Originally, and also when transplanting, I dug the trenches as recommended, some deeper than others, which staggers the start time of harvest a bit and I suggest you do this unless you only have a few plants. I have a lot of plants and eat a lot of asparagus and freeze it for the winter. The delayed start means that some are producing a week earlier than others. I let them all go to ferns near the end of June.
I have two rows per 3.5 foot bed, roots are staggered in the bed, not directly across from each other, 6-10 inch deep trench. Place roots in trench, water well, cover with well decomposed compost (pretty well my only soil amendment). Water again. As the roots and tops grow, cover again with compost. If dry, water first and after. I planted meticulously in 1992 adding a little compost every few days but when starting new gardens that were at a distance to me in 1995 I added the soil in two layers about a week apart and all was fine. They are very forgiving, if moist and not too hot. I have sandy soil which they like and it tends to be on the acid side. If you have heavier soil you may need to add sand, they need excellent drainage.
    When we transplanted the four 30-foot double rows four years ago it was a big project. I started with trenches and gave up as the roots were all sizes. I trenched the smaller root clumps I took off the “mother clumps,” and for the mothers I dug deep individual holes. Perhaps a five percent loss was noticed the next spring. We transplanted in July! On a hot sunny day, I expected a larger loss, and was very pleased. Once again, I was reminded that the best time to transplant is when you have the time to do it right for the conditions.
    The plants seem to rise up over time, but adding to the top of the bed – which is easy to do – helps that. If I have it I add richer manure to the beds in the fall, after I cut the very yellow tops off. I have let the seeds mature and distribute around the garden over the years and give those plants to others.
    The roots will grow into the paths between the beds – do not cultivate between the rows. I mulch between the beds with cardboard and eelgrass and every few years as the eelgrass breaks down, scrape this off and use it to top up the beds and then mulch the paths again.
Ruth Richman
DeGros Marsh, P.E.I.