Friday, 30 May 2014

At Least The Rocks Are Free...

We have had some rain and, with it, a rest from carrying rocks and working outside. After a few days indoors, even the wind today couldn't stop us from fixing up the rock beds I started last fall. We had a million things to do so I decided it was easier to use some rocks where we were finding them rather than hauling them away. I started 2 raised rock walls and put a stone path between them. At the time, though, winter was coming quick and I didn't have time to build proper walls. I think I made a better job of it today, with a load of rocks from up the hill.

Just a few

The stone beds now connect to a small bed I built the other day
alongside the shed

From there you can see the stone well and, further
down the slope, the apple bed
 I have placed loose rocks between the raised wall bed and the one along the shed. I plan to fill that area right in with stones and end up with a cobblestone-effect once I fill the gaps with sand.

I can't get around having a downspout run across the stone wall (for now).
Hopefully we will solve some eavestroughing conundrums in the month of June.

My plan is to grow moss between the rocks and low-maintenance things in these beds once I find topsoil to fill them. I'm trying to stick to a budget and I am now content to wait a year or two to fill these beds with soil and plants I find in the wild. The nice part about these projects is they add instant personality to a new yard, and the rocks are free.

Do you keep to an annual budget for yard and garden projects? Do you receive many plants from friends and neighbours, or have you ever taken any from the roadside?

Tuesday, 27 May 2014


After a whirlwind few weeks home, Husband has returned to work. This time he took the camper and his nephew and will be about a two hour drive away. We have stayed at the campsite before--it is clean, has a playground and kids' swimming area. The boys are super-excited to go visit Daddy in the camper.

We worked hard while he was home, and we also all came down with a cold. Despite being under the weather we accomplished much of what I had hoped:

  • 3 raised garden beds built, soil amended with compost, and planted
  • all excess lumber stacked and mess from garage-build tidied 
  • topsoil leveled behind garage and small garden area tilled
  • countless hours picking rocks, twigs, glass and metal out of the topsoil so we could seed lawn. We got over half done and seeded. I still have a patch to finish. Which I dread.
  • apple tree bed built (ringed with rock)
  • planted 2 apple trees, hydrangea, hazelnut, pear and pollinator trees, flowering crabapple, raspberries, moved hedge rose
  • planted sunflowers and potatoes
  • harrowed the road to smooth out winter's ruts
  • seeded blossoming clover as cover crop on the west half of the yard to keep down weeds and add organic matter to the soil
  • new 3 compartment compost bin 
  • planted out chokecherry trees and cedar from my mom
  • watered 120 blue spruce along our road
  • flowerbed alongside the shed, planted 1 mugo pine, a peony, reed grass, phlox, burning bush, and other things from seed packets which I forget

We have finally had some warm weather and the leaves are back, our lawn is growing grass and weeds, and some of the garden is up. We spotted sunflowers, onion tops, radishes and a few potatoes. It was a real relief to see that things are going to grow (it would be my luck to have a gardening blog and a garden that doesn't grow)!

Yesterday I was able to sneak off to the greenhouse with my mom, where I bought some annuals and my tomato and pepper plants. I've never had much luck starting tomatoes, but I have a small indoor greenhouse and a heated tray so next year I would like to try. We had a bit of rain last night so I will plant the tomatoes, peppers and herbs when it is dry. Until then I think we can stay busy doing up flower pots. 

What is growing in your garden?

Sunday, 18 May 2014

In the Garden

Today we had a major find in the garden--not as epic as coming across a new marble, but remarkable nonetheless.

By noon we had roto-tilled a potato patch and planted 3 rows of red potatoes (so much for keeping better records this year as I already forget what type and I threw out the bag before writing down the name). Also planted 10 raspberry canes, one apple tree and a hydrangea. I moved 6 hedge rose from where I planted all the extra trees last year, placing them downhill from my swale in hopes that their roots will bind the topsoil and prevent more erosion.

Before it began to rain, I turned the soil in two of the raised beds. I worry that one has too much clay, but I will try to amend with compost before planting. I am waiting to plant the rest of the garden until closer to June--it has been a cool spring and I don't want to lose anything to frost this year. There is much more to plant but rain is welcome. In the past few days of rain we have done more work in the basement and been pleased to see our lawn begin to grow.

Wherever you are this weekend, may you dig a hole and find an awesome rhinoceros (or the happy equivalent thereof). 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

One (Lonely) Swale

I began to read Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden in the winter of 2012/13, when we still lived in our old house an hour's drive south of here. It is a very practical guide to planning one's yard, and one that impressed upon me the importance of water conservation (among other things).

In the book, Hemenway illustrates the usefulness of swales in reducing water runoff on slopes. The idea is to dig a trough of one to two feet deep (in my case, much closer to ONE backbreaking foot deep!):

Although it looks like I have put the swale running downhill, the actual slope that we lose most of the runoff from is to the left of the trench I dug.

See what I mean? This is facing uphill, where snow melt and rain runoff had actually worn deep gullies into the soil before we harrowed (carrying away my valuable topsoil). But back to the swale. Into the bottom my helpers and I deposited first, gravel. We topped that with sand because, hey, they had loaded their John Deere trailer and I hated to disappoint ;)

The next layer was straw (or rather long dead grass out of the bushes). It was straw-like and more plentiful than the bit of straw I swiped from the farm for my compost. We quickly covered it before the wind blew it away. Looks like the helpers are conspiring...

Ah, yes, they moved on to more exciting adventures and left mommy to finish the job. As usual ;)

The point of the swale is to catch water as it moves down the slope and give it somewhere to go (rather than gushing downhill in soil depleting rivers). When the water hits the swale (and the slight berm that is on the downhill side of the swale...difficult to photograph...) it should soak in and travel along the gravel bottom before soaking slowly and more deeply below-ground--the width of the swale.

I had high hopes that we might get three or even four swales installed because our yard is sloping in every direction. Alas, I managed only this one poor lonely swale by the sweat of my own brow. We are short on time and very short on horse power, but if there is a chance this fall after my cover crops get turned under I hope to try another.

Have you any water conservation strategies in place in your garden? Or is the rainfall plentiful enough that you haven't the need?

Sunday, 11 May 2014

All In A Day's Work

We have settled into a routine with Husband home and weather warm enough to work outside. Slowly but surely we are striking tasks off our (long) list. And as I strike them off, more tasks get added until it seems we may never finish. Indeed, that is the whole point, for our list is made up jobs that require us to work together, co-operate, be outdoors, connect with the land and nature...all of the reasons we moved here and began this adventure a year ago.

We were lucky to get several truckloads of free birch for firewood. Husband has been splitting it so that it dries without rotting, and stacking it in the trees near the garage. Initially we planned to build a wood shed this year, but we are undecided where to put it. We might wait til next year when we know what will be most convenient. I hate the thought of putting things in the wrong place because we are in a hurry to get things done!

Husband also stacked all the wood leftover from our garage-build. From that stash we used 2"x10" boards for two raised beds, and 2'x12" boards for the middle one. We used what we have on hand. The beds look small to me, but my garden at our old house was only productive at the west end (an area much smaller than these 3 beds combined. I also plan to plant my potatoes, corn and peas outside of the raised beds, so for this year I think we will get enough food from these 3 beds.

In the picture below, you might notice a layer of cow manure. The four year old and I have been busy collecting cow patties from the pasture. We also had a blast gathering earth worms out of the dirt I dug from my fish pond. Many were added to the garden beds, and many more to the compost pit. I fear the two-year-old may have dropped most of his during the delivery, but I'm sure the worms have found their way back into the earth by now ;)

We have had some very productive days working in our yard. There are moments with a four and two-year-old where it seems we might get nothing done--but this year is just an indication of things to come. As they get older the kids will stray further from my sight to build forts and climb trees, explore the little creek and climb the rock piles. I have a feeling I better enjoy having them under foot while I still can!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A Room of One's Own

Virginia Woolf said, for a woman to write she must have 400 pounds a year and a room of her own (Not a direct quote. And I couldn't figure out how to make the sign for British money. I'm off to a poor start). I would agree with Virginia, and add that a woman needs a room of her own if she wants to do anything creative. I know, I know. I heard that J. K. Rawlings wrote Harry Potter on the backs of napkins in noisy restaurants. Clearly there are exceptions to the rule. But for me, I am loving finally having a sewing room all to myself. It is where I sew and write this blog, keep track of bills and banking, and I feel that more is possible now that I have a dedicated space for my hobbies. (Clearing the kitchen table to sew, then removing everything for sticky little fingers and snacks every few hours is just not an option anymore).

This room has been a dumping ground in our new home. We did not even have stairs to the basement until this winter, so many things that did not belong were being stored here for lack of storage elsewhere. As we have gained access to the basement and now have our garage as well, I am slowly clearing the clutter and making this room what I had imagined it to be.

I bought this old desk at a flea market. Love those sturdy legs!

I bought this old cabinet on kijiji. I love the glass doors--unfortunately we broke one when we put the shelf in. We don't talk about it--it's too soon.

I have finally organized my material so I can see what I have. I think it is pretty and cheerful behind the glass.

This little room had an elliptical trainer, a 10x13' rug, boxes and toys that have all finally found their proper places in our home. I am not expecting any major works of art to come from my little sewing room. We keep toys in here and it can get a little dusty in the corners. But now that I have a space of my own I hope to dedicate some time each week to my own creativity. When I do that I feel happier and more connected. I think Virginia would be proud.

Do you have a dedicated area where you can craft/ write/ create? 

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Coconut Oil For Teeth

We have had a few weeks of cold and wet--snow and rain mixed which swamped our new yard and caused the compost to pile up (the pile being in the muddiest part of the yard). Daily I swept up a dustpan FULL of mud and dirt from the yard, adding this to the compost waiting to be taken out. At the same time we lost our sporadic and unreliable internet connection. The only thing consistent about our internet is the monthly bill that rolls in whether you have a signal or not. But I digress :)

Spring is tentative this year. The moisture has helped to bring a glint of green, here and there. We need some heat for things to erupt, but in the meantime we are wearing our toques in the wind and preparing to plant lawn. The list of projects is long but after waiting all winter to tackle most of them, it is very satisfying to begin. Outdoors we have wood to split and stack, rocks and stones to pick, lumber to stack and raised beds to build, along with a new compost bin and swales (more on all of this later). Indoors we have painted the basement and are sealing the concrete floor down there. We aren't going to finish the ceiling this year but trim and baseboards will come soon. It is a busy time and Husband is home to help. It is nice to work together as a family.

I will post on our many projects as we complete them. For today, I wanted to share what I have learned about coconut oil. I heard from friends about the many uses of coconut oil so bought some and tried it in baking (like it but it's expensive). My brother takes a teaspoon per day in his coffee to prevent gout.  I finally gathered my nerve and tried coconut oil on my teeth in what is called a "pull". Essentially you take a teaspoon full of coconut oil in the mouth and swish it through your teeth for ten to twenty minutes (or as long as you can stand it). My first attempt was a wretched four minutes but by then I lost my nerve and the kids needed yelling at. Husband bragged that he managed 24 minutes so my next try was more determined (and the kids were being bathed by their dad so I had no excuse). I swished the oil for 16 minutes and will continue to use the oil daily for a couple more days. My sensitive teeth are no longer bothering me; they appear more white (even the coffee stains on the backs of my bottom teeth) and hot and cold foods are no longer painful to eat. Husband agrees and we are fans of the oil (if not the melting sensation of lard turning to oil in my mouth). If you have sensitive teeth but dread the dentist (bill) you might give it a try--I found it in the health food aisle at the grocery store.

Have you ever tried coconut oil? I've read about its many uses--what do you use it for?